Kristen Coury, Artistic Director of the Gulfshore Playhouse, has outdone herself once again. She is the person who brought us THE WHIPPING MAN, that total triumph I enthusiastically declared was the best play I had seen this season. Well, she’s outdone, even that one.
Coury directed the current production. It is an absolute must see of Terrence McNally’s award winning play, MASTER CLASS. What an artistic challenge for the director it must have been.
MASTER CLASS is the poignant story of Maria Callas, after her voice has gone! After every accolade, every triumph, encore after encore, and once at La Scala, 37 Curtain Calls. She can sing no more. But, Callas isn’t done. Now she will teach, she will attempt to bring to young talent, what they need to know to reach the heights of what’s above the high C, how to find the soul within the music and themselves.
Coury has a new venue. In partnership with the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, MASTER CLASS is on the boards at the Daniels Pavilion, where every seat is a perfect seat, and the acoustics are worthy of Maria Callas.
What a cast she has assembled. Marina Re who plays Maria, is so spot on, you never doubt, the real Callas is there. Feisty, and fiery, smug and superior, with a vulnerability that brought tears to my eyes, Marina Re reigns over what Maria teaches. It is a performance that is utterly dazzling. The lines she has to memorize, and so many in Italian, for a Brooklyn born actress, amazing.
In act I, She clobbers a student soprano, who never comes back. Callas will not tolerate mediocrity, nor any student willing to settle for easy ways to a career of greatness. She almost dismisses a tenor, with an ego close to her own, whose hero is Mario Lanza, whom Maria clearly looks down upon.
The tenor, Glenn Seven Allen, is McNally’s comic relief, and perfect. To, Maria, the Tenors Solos, have always been her time off-stage for a costume change, or just to rest. The Tenor says, “People think we tenors are dumb.” It is this place in the play that Maria does powerful flashbacks to her marriage to Aristotle Onassis, “I am the richest man in the world married to the most famous woman in the world.”
In Act II, we meet the third student, and this one stands up to Callas. In her gorgeous pink gown, all wrong for a class at Julliard School of Music, Christine Cornell, just shined as Callas shows her what the role of Lady Macbeth demands. Her scenes with Callas were so powerful, as we watched the two in conflict. And it is in that second act, that Maria flashes back to her life in Greece during the Second World War, under German Occupation. Marina Re played it so beautifully. It’s where she talks about the first marriage to her Battista, an old man, one she didn’t love, but maybe just used to get where she wanted to go. I felt that people around me in the audience, and myself, too, could barely breathe. That’s how real and utterly gripping MASTER CLASS is and Re’s performance was.
Ms. Coury’s magic directorial touches were seen even in the small roles, the rehearsal piano player, docile, compliant, Manny, delightfully handled by Charles Czarnecki, who could not only play that grand piano on stage, but also acted. It was also true of Michael Turczynski, who was cast as the Stage Hand. They contributed to the ensemble that got right into to all the creative nuances McNally had written in to MASTER CLASS.
Please do not miss this one. You will go and have a need to tell everyone you know to go. That’s what I’m doing here, and I’ll end with a quote from Kristen Coury from the playbill. She writes: “LA DIVINA. Imagine having received the moniker, ‘The Divine.’ And yet, it was somehow perfectly apt. Maria believed that the singer served the composer and the composer served God, so of course she was a golden thread in the golden mesh of Divinity. Aren’t we all?”
Come see for yourself why I was so impressed. Tickets will go fast. You need to be there at The Daniels Pavilion at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5633 Pelican Bay Blvd, Naples. The box office number is 866 811 4111. Mention you saw this review in the Sanibel-Captiva ISLANDER.
Theater Notes, by Sidney B. Simon
April 8, 2013