Master Class – Review

20 Aug

Before even discussing the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Master Class, can we take a moment to appreciate the incredible photo of Tyne Daly?  To quote Norma Desmond; they don’t make faces like that anymore.
In fact, they’ve slowed down the production of actresses like Tyne Daly.  She has what is known as presence.  She changes the electricity in a room.  She has a smile (not employed in this production) that starts in her eyes and goes down to her toesIt does not rely upon precision dental work, but on her using her entire body as her instrument.
How apt then that she should portray a fictionalized Maria Callas as written by Terrence McNally.  Master Class is a well crafted, less than riveting play about Maria Callas in her later years.  It lacks the overall power of the more recent; “artist as subject of a play,” Red.  However it has many prolonged moments which satisfy and linger.
The setting is an auditorium in which Ms. Callas is holding a master class for advanced opera students.  Her narcissistic ramblings and outbursts will remind you of your worse workplace moments.  Underneath her posturings and hurtful tongue however, are some truly golden nuggets of teaching. 
The two-act play, directed by Stephen Wadsworth, is interspersed with very gracefully set flashbacks of Ms. Callas.  Original recordings are used to great effect.  The music, live and recorded, helps to give this play some needed dimension.  Two of the three opera students are given the opportunity to really sing, and it is truly magical.  It was during those moments that I stopped “watching” and became entranced.
The flashback scenes are when things really get interesting, dramatically speaking.  This is both a product of the script and of having Ms. Daly perform monologues.  I must admit an emphasis on the latter, as the script did nothing to prevent me flashing back to Ms. Daly performing “Rose’s Turn.”  It is a testament to the actress embodying the character, that I cringed at her portrayal of Aristotle Onasis.  Tyne Daly could probably utter those vulgarities, but as Maria Callas?  It was horrifying.  In a good way.
As the premise of the play is a master class, the house lights are often up and the fourth wall is more scrim than wall.  I grew increasingly tense each time Ms. Daly lobbed (what I considered to be rhetorical) questions at the eager to participate audience.  I think this could have been somewhat offset by not having the house lights as high.  The script probably does not dictate a wattage.  While I’m at it, I would probably lobby for a smaller house.  It is a small play, and while the Samuel J. Friedman theatre is not huge, it’s a bit out of proportion.
Tyne Daly last performed with the Manhattan Theatre Club in Rabbit Hole.  Like Rabbit Hole, the reason to see Master Class is the opportunity to see Tyne Daly.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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