Terrence McNally’s Acerbic Master Class Dominates at CV Rep


“ART is domination.  It’s making people think that for that precise moment in time there is only one way, one voice.  Yours.”  So states Terrence McNally — via his opera diva Maria Callas — in his self-absorbed play Master Class, now playing at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre in Rancho Mirage.  This production IS art.  It dominates, and throughout its two act performance “the play’s the thing.”  And there is nothing else.

Having lost the beauty and timber of her voice in late career, Maria Callas took the role of opera/ voice teacher at the Juilliard School in Lincoln Center in the early 1970s.  In his fictionalized rendering of this milieu, McNally presents a self-absorbed, sardonic, at times cruel and always-pitiful Callas.  At the twilight of her bel canto career, Callas both instructs and destroys the voice and confidence of her fragile opera students during a master class that the audience is both privy to and part of.  McNally places the audience as part of the master class, and Callas talks to us directly and convincingly, chastising the characters of the play as well as members of the audience:  “You.  Yes  you.  You lack a look.  Get a look.”   This truly theatrical production is both comic, tragic, terrifying and completely satisfying.

While kudos belong to director and CV Rep’s artistic director Ron Celona for the overall success of this production, the evening belongs to Marina Re, who plays the aging diva.   Ms. Re’s performance is Broadway-worthy.  The strength of her projection is mesmerizing, supporting McNally’s words in the play:  “Can you hear me? I don’t believe in microphones. Singing is first of all about projection. So is speech. People are forgetting how to listen. They want everything blasted at them. Listening takes concentration. If you can’t hear me, it’s your fault. You’re not concentrating.”  When Ms. Re pronounces these words, the audience perks up, as if on cue.  She dominates us with her art, and McNally’s words leave us delighted in the fact that we are not up next to audition for Ms. Callas.
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Callas not only bosses her students, no.  She’s an equal-opportunity barker of commands.  She bosses her pianist Manny (Steven Smith), the stagehand (Michael Frank), and her three auditioning opera students (Kara Masek as the 1st soprano; Mario Alberto Rios as the tenor; and Nora Graham as the 2nd soprano).  All are competent, and the opera singers deliver their arias with comic terror as required by McNally’s text.  And as called for my McNally, they all fade under the brilliant shine of Ms. Re’s Callas, who commands the stage from the moment of her entrance to her exit.  Jimmy Cuomo’s set design, Stuart Fabel’s lighting, and Aalsa Lee’s costumes all serve the role of highlighting the dramatic arc that is Maria Callas.  Master Class is sure to delight.  Come prepared to laugh, to cry, to be terrorized, and to be delighted.

Check out the CV Rep at 69-930 Hwy 111, Suite 116, Rancho Mirage,  CA.  (760) 296-2966; http://www.cvrep.org/

Armin’s Grade: A

Theatre Review by Armin Callo, Contributing Editor

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