September 7, 2011

Master of Class

Something special happened on the stage of the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre of the Manhattan Theatre Club these past few months and I am so glad that I was able to see it before it closed last Sunday.

The usually "blue collar" actress Tyne Daly managed to transform herself into the ultimate Diva and brought Maria Callas to life in Terence McNally's Master Class. She is remarkable, larger than life but also manages to evoke wit as well as vulnerability and pathos.

It is a poignant story of a theatre great reduced to teaching classes when she could no longer perform at the later stage of her career. Why is it that people who are great live sorrowful lives? The answer may be found in the last monologue of the Callas declares that she has poured more than just herself on stage and yet the audience manages to clamour for more.

She has 3 students as her "victims" in this play and as they sing for her, Callas wanders into her own world re-living her moments growing up being an ugly duckling, triumph in La Scala, dislike for her rivals as well as her tumultuous affair with Aristotle Onassis. It's a rare glimpse at the life of the diva. Despite of this however, she manages to impart to them what she's known for.........not just singing beautifully but more importantly, acting what they are singing. That everything they needed was in the notes, the composer tells them what to do.

Sierra Boggess (Sharon Graham), Alexandra Silber (Sophie De Palma) and Garret Sorenson (Anthony Candolino) all play her students and they all sing beautifully. In fact, the audience is treated with beautiful music and singing in this play. Jeremy Cohen plays Emmanuel Weinstock the accompanist while Clinton Brandhagen plays the clueless stagehand. I did find it amusing that the stagehand comes in and out of the play either bringing a chair or cushion oblivious to the greatness around him. It's a very grounding moment in the play which even the diva acknowledges.

On a related note, having been at the Friedman Theatre before (see here), it has become one of my favorite theatres on Broadway. I suppose it's because of it's understated elegance as well as their spacious lounge. I love the stills from past productions that decorate the walls, giving you a history of the MTC.

The MTC board with it's history of productions

A lounge wall with production stills
Proof with Mary-Louise Parker

Tyne Daly and Cynthia Nixon in Rabbit Hole

the opposite wall

Doubt with Brian F'O Byrne and Cherrie Jones on the left and Reckless with Mary-Louise Parker

MTC's The Wild Party with Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs


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