Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Old Enough to Know Better
Master Class is a demanding play, requiring an actress capable of delivering a larger than life performance as Maria Callas. The original Broadway production in 1995 featured Zoe Caldwell, replaced by Patti LuPone and Dixie Carter, while Faye Dunaway toured the show with the hopes of making it into a movie. Years later, Tyne Daly had a go at it, first in Washington, then in New York. Director Helen Holliday told me that she did not have anyone in mind for the star role, when Seva Anthony showed up at auditions and was chosen. The play is a fictionalized account of an actual event: in 1971, Callas came out of seclusion after her retirement from the opera stage to give a series of master classes at The Juilliard School in New York.
Ms. Callas was known for her temperament on and off stage, which was on display at Juilliard as dramatized here by Pulitzer Prize winning author Terrence McNally. I spent a large part of my professional career at a large opera company among people who thought of Maria Callas as a goddess, one of the greatest singers ever, an opinion I don't share. During the play she works with three young singers and this becomes a jumping off point for personal reminisces of her own glory days. While there are five supporting roles listed in the program, about 80% of the stage time is focused on Callas.
Because of the demands of the central role, I don't know if it is a good choice for community theater. Seva Anthony is actually very good as Maria Callas, capturing her fabled hand movements and at times the fiery persona. I did find my mind wandering a bit at times; this is a capable performance of a role that requires a compelling performance or better. Maria Wirries as Soprano 1, Sophie, displays a voice in training, not yet ready for the opera stage. The part is not strongly written, making few dramatic demands. Christos Nicholoudis as Tony, a tenor, looks handsome as the part requires and sings the first act aria "Recondita Armonia" from Tosca decently. Erica Reynolds as Soprano 2, Sharon, has the best vocal chops, almost ready for the opera stage but not as Lady Macbeth, a fiercely demanding role that Callas sang famously. Alan Jay Corey is the music director playing Manny, the accompanist. Chuck Conlon has a few brief appearances as a Stagehand.
Costumes by Georgina Willmott define the historical period. Set design is limited to a desk for Maria and the piano, but functions reasonably well. Sound and lighting design by Seth Berry are effective; Ms. Seva has some help via a head mic which is a good choice.
Master Class is a risky choice for any company. The Players do a reasonably good job with a very difficult play.
Master Class, through August 16, 2015, at The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Box Office (941) 365-2494. For more information visit www.theplayers.org.