Review: Master Class
Tyne Daly plays Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's garish biodrama.
Fri Jul 8 2011
Photograph: Joan Marcus
TEACHER'S IN A PET Daly, right, gets peevish with Sierra Boggess.
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
"Nobody cares the troubles you've seen," cautions Maria Callas (Daly) in Master Class. "It's our work that matters. Only our work." Terrence McNally feels otherwise. His gossipy 1995 divasploitation drama depicts Callas's excursions into teaching after her voice gave out—several passages are borrowed from her 1971 semester at Juilliard—but this setup is mostly framework for a broadly drawn, trashily colored portrait of the great soprano as an aging camp dragon with tattered scales.
No one would expect a Broadway play to reproduce the intelligent, specific technical insights of Callas's instruction. But McNally's version of her is demeaning: Not only prone to bitchy one-liners and tedious theatrics—sniping at rival singers, upstaging her students at every turn—she is also a poor and unprofessional instructor, alternately insulting her charges and goading them with platitudes about acting. ("Try isn't good enough. Do," she advises, Yoda-like.) Lacking Callas's elegance, the estimable Daly nonetheless controls the stage and the audience with command, and lends shading to the writing wherever she can; less successful are the three actors playing her students, guided with a heavy hand by Stephen Wadsworth.
The pedagogical sequences, at least, have a patina of high culture, unlike the pair of vulgar, melodramatic flashbacks about Callas's doomed affair with Aristotle Onassis that form the climaxes of both acts. "This is a master class, not a psychiatrist's office," she announces early on—to no avail. Stripping La Divina of both mastery and class, McNally shrinks her with a vengeance.
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. By Terrence McNally. Dir. Stephen Wadsworth. With Tyne Daly. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.