Brian De Palma's "The Fury" ends with the villian, played by John Cassavetes, getting an explosive comeuppance. This closing flurish would be more satisfying appended to "Opening Night," Cassavetes' latest abomination as a writer-directer. Perhaps the management of the Avalon, where "The Fury" is playing downstairs and "Opening Night" has just opened up-stairs, could be persuaded to oblige. The drudgery of "Opening Night" might be bearable if one could anticipate watching Cassavetes get a fitting fantasy punishment.

Cassavetes has magnified his already imposing deficiencies as a dramatist by daring to set his new movie in a theatrical milieu. As usual, his characters are frustrated by their creator's inability to find words adequate enough to express the platitudes surging through his consciousness. Since they are also supposed to be theatrical folk rehearsing scenes for a new play allegedly headed for triumph on Broadway. words fail them on-stage as well as off.

If you think Cassavetes has trouble inventing casual dialogue you ain't heard nothing till you've heard passages from this bogus play, a searing expose of menopausal anxiety entitled "The Second Woman." Naturally, Cassavetes' long-suffering actress-wife, Gena Rowlands, is struck with the role of the actress cast in the lead. Her resistance to the part and the play seems perfectly understandable: Who would want to risk self-exposure in such a self-evident turkey?

"The Second Woman" is no "Springtime for Hilter." Producers could oversubscribe in complete confidence that opening night would be synonymous with closing night. During the tryout sequences, supposedly set in New Haven, you can't help regretting that Joseph Heller has already used the title "We Bombed in New Haven." Cassavetes is trying to pretend that the company has a hit on its hands a hilarious affront to common sense.

The poor protagonoist is obliged to overcome her resistance, which Cassavetes equates with a fear of playing older women. She staggers onto the stage in a drunken stupor and supposedly brings it off, although it's appearent that what we're watching are Rowlands and Cassavetes horsing around in front of an audience of giggly indulgent friends and relatives.

"Opening Night" resolvers itself into a glorified home movie. Cassavetes merely flatters his vanity by prefending that he and his wife make up a crack theatrical team. Not only are they no threat to the memory of Lunt and Fontanne, they are no threat to the memory of Martha Raye and Rocky Graziano. If a sitcom about battling spouse would keep Cassavetes too preoccupied to make sure more films in the tradition of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "Husbands" and "Opening Night" it would be a small price to pay.

Rowlands' rummy act is sometimes amusingly reminiscent of Susan Tyrell as the slovely barfly in Fat City." but on the whole it's depressing to watch Rowlands struggling to make a virtue of disorganized exhibitionism. One fels a certain lingering regret about her career. Her face, voice and sensibility promised more than circumstances have ever permitted her to achieve. If she hadn't become her husband's leading lady, she might have evolved into a star.

That reflection is the only aspect of "Opening Night" that does get you. It could be the basis of a genuinely interesting drama, for stage or screen, about conjugal relations in the theater. Obviously. John Cassavetes is the last person in the world likely to perceive or write that drama.