Terrence McNally excites audiences almost as much as he excites actors. He demands a lot of an actor, and Theatre Raleigh’s production of Master Class points this out to the extreme. On opening night at the Kennedy Theatre in Raleigh, NC, there was never a moment when our focus was not on the stage. The investment of the director and the power of the performance are enthralling.
Goodreads calls the play “pyrotechnical theater — fireworks in a contained space,” and it is as if they had watched the same production we did to achieve that opinion. Greek-American opera singer extraordinaire Maria Callas (1923-77), a.k.a. “La Divina,” in the latter years of her short life, gave several open Master Classes at Juilliard. McNally has created a story of Callas, the woman and the artist, in one such setting.
Callas reveals her drive as a world-renowned artist of towering achievement, and exposes her depth of understanding of her art as she goads and chides her victim students. In frequent reminiscences, she unveils her personal life, recalling her loveless marriage to Giovanni Battista Meneghini and her tumultuous relationship with Aristotle Onassis.
On a smart, sparse set, designed by Chris Bernier, director Ray Dooley gifts us with a remarkable cast whose talent, stage presence, and energy sweep off the stage like a thunderstorm of emotion. The Callas costume was hands down perfect — a black palazzo pants outfit, highlighted with gold. Other costumes are appropriately inappropriate for a Master Class performance. Sarah McCabe gets the kudos for this, and Elisa Acevedo designed a magnificent coif for the character of Maria Callas, played by Judy McLane.
Judy McLane defines “mesmerize” in her role as Maria Callas. With a skill only a heavy-duty professional can acquire, she keeps our rapt attention on her, while she is engaged with the other characters, without ever diminishing our focus on them.
McLane’s emotional range is boundless, from the loving snippiness in her adjustments, to the almost suicidal despair in her lost love with Onassis, there is a total sincerity about the depth and veracity of her passion. Her flashes of humor help to make Callas real, not just a tragic opera singer with bad memories.
Pianist Tom Beard plays accompanist Manny, which keeps him on stage along with Callas all the time. Manny has several opportunities to assert his opinions, and Beard delivers lines as well as he tickles the ivories.
Sophie, an operatic soprano (played by Alana Sealy) is the first of Callas’ “victims.” Sealy takes Maria’s caustic approach, which includes interrupting the poor woman’s aria in about the second bar three times in a row, and is able to show patience and no signs of discouragement.
Jason Karn is an opera tenor who plays opera tenor-to-be Tony with self-confidence. Karn makes Tony unafraid of Callas, and willing to talk back to her. He sings beautifully and even gets encouragement from her.
Sharon, another soprano-hopeful, is played by Juliana Valente. Valente brings a naivety, innocence and sweetness to the role. She also has chops to make real her return to the class after being humiliated and accosted verbally, completely unexpectedly, by the luminary diva.
Liam Yates is superb as Stagehand, and makes the role one of importance to the play. His nonchalant attitude to Maria Callas penetrates her armor-like persona, even if just for a moment, but enough do the job.
Theatre Raleigh producing artistic director Lauren Kennedy Brady made a brilliant decision to put this show up. It’s a great addition to summer theater going.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 9th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9076; Aug. 8th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/master-class/Event?oid=16741746; Aug. 5th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Interview with Judy McLane, who plays Maria Callas, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-From-Dancing-Queen-to-Opera-Diva-Judy-McLane-Opens-Up-About-MAMMA-MIA-Maria-Callas-and-Theatre-Raleighs-MASTER-CLASS-20180805 and July 23rd prevew by BWW News Desk: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/Judy-McLane-to-Star-in-Theatre-Raleighs-MASTER-CLASS-20180723; Aug. 4th Raleigh, NC Spectrum Central NC In-Depth interview with actress Judy McLane, who plays Maria Callas, conducted by Nick LaGrange: https://www.facebook.com/NickDLaGrange/videos/1815169341884301/; and July 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article215505405.html.
Theatre Raleigh presents MASTER CLASS, starring Judy McLane and directed by Ray Dooley, at 8 p.m. Aug. 10, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 11, 3 p.m. Aug. 12, 8 p.m. Aug. 15-17, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 18, and 3 p.m. Aug. 19 in the in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $32 ($30 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
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Master Class (1995 Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?index=0&key=1912 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/master-class-5942 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_Class (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Terrence McNally (playwright): http://www.terrencemcnally.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/terrence-mcnally-8828 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0573645/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrence_McNally (Wikipedia).
Ray Dooley (Chapel Hill, NC director, PlayMakers Repertory Company member, professor of acting in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art, and head of UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/ray-dooley/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/18744 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/ray-dooley-78324 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1641948/ (Internet Movie Database), https://twitter.com/rdooleync (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Dooley (Wikipedia).
Judy McLane (actress playing Maria Callas): http://judymclane.net/index.html (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/22510 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/judy-mclane-69478 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2676018/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://twitter.com/realjudymclane (Twitter page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.