Master Class

  • Our critic's rating:
    July 1, 2011
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    Maria Callas was elegant, and frightened, and fluid. She chose her looks and her moves with care, from what I can gather. She was always watching herself while she watched others. In listening to one of her Master Classes she is specific and generous, as well as opinionated of course. She is not condescending or a comedienne at the expense of others. She also sings during the class.

    In Master Class, Terence McNally has created a character that appears distantly related to Madame Callas. This Callas reminds you of Callas like Budweiser reminds you of beer.

    It is a difficult play to begin with, one that tries to give us Callas locked into her past through the present music that she hears. Back we tumble with her to her debuts, her loves, her memory of one betrayal after another and her triumphs over them. We move from the class into the past through some fabulous slight of hand with the sets and lights. It is a dramatic segue and effective until the recorded voice of Callas is played. I was sitting under the balcony overhang, and the sound was very disappointing.

    But at the core of what is not logical in this play is that Callas does not sing. She questions her accompanist in the first few minutes, after being reminded that they worked together the day before, - “How was I?” she asks. “You were wonderful.” And then, for the better part of two hours we never hear her sing. There is one moment where Daly executes a clarion blast – and that is surprisingly well done. But other than that – nada!

    So instead of singing, Callas spends her time demeaning her students, all the while with tongue firmly planted in cheek, or testing our humor threshold, “You don’t have a look. You look very nice, I’m sure you are. You look very clean, very comme il faut but you don’t have a look. Get one, as quickly as possible.”

    This is more than not amusing. It isn’t relevant.

    The singers were disappointing because the first two were directed in the same caricature style that Daly has adapted. They were not people you could care about. And the last didn’t have a voice that was strong. It was lovely, but lacking in substance.

    I will say there was not one minute that I was bored or uninterested in what was happening. Tyne Daly knows how to make you sit up and pay attention. When she is onstage she is almost growing roots and branches while you watch. It is that raw energy that pulls you in. Whatever happens, it won’t be because Daly is not giving 100%.

    Everyone works very hard, but they seem to be in different concurrent shows. So this Master Class is more a series of missed connections than anything else. The characters miss each other and we miss Callas.


    "Daly transforms that script into one of the most haunting portraits I’ve seen of life after stardom. "
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Highly enjoyable and wonderfully performed."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "If you think this is a curious casting choice (Tyne Daly as Callas), you're right. And the gamble doesn't quite pay off."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Funny, reverential and wholly engrossing ."
    Jeremy Gerald for Bloomberg

    "Daly is now working at the absolute top of her game, and it's inspiring to watch this superb actor stretching herself instead of playing it safe."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "Slight and a bit mechanical, an amusing but modest evening."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "An engaging and informative couple of hours with a formidable teacher."
    David Cote for Time Out New York

    "Disappointing revival, ... McNally’s play remains an effective work, but the so-so production scarcely does it justice."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "McNally's play succeeds more as a fascinating character study than a full-blooded drama. But in this polished production, the impressive musicianship of its cast, and most of all in Daly's remarkable performance, audiences are unlikely to feel cheated."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "While the dynamic Daly might not possess the air of self-dramatizing tristesse that hovered over Callas after her blazing career came to an end, Daly brings something better to the character -- a sense of vulnerable humanity that makes her courage to survive all the more admirable."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

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