Review: Master Class (TimeLine Theatre)

| November 12, 2018

Maria Callas (Janet Ulrich Brooks) works with Sophie (Molly Hernández) with Manny (Stephen Boyer) on piano 2    



Master Class

Written by Terrence McNally
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru Dec 9  |  tix: $42-$57  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Uncompromising, brilliant and fiercely passionate


Maria Callas (Janet Ulrich Brooks) works with Sophie (Molly Hernández) with Manny (Stephen Boyer) on piano

TimeLine Theatre presents
Master Class

Review by Johanna Dalton

Master Class depicts the controversial career of opera star Maria Callas through the prism of the classroom. As she instructs her promising students, memories of her days as perhaps the most celebrated opera star of her time come flooding in to form the backdrop of the simple action of the play. The work is inspired by the series of classes taught by Callas at the Juilliard School of Music in the 1970’s where there was a live audience and tickets sold. Callas is at once the imposing subject and the hard-nosed teacher of the intensely engaging class that playwright Terrence McNally has created.

Janet Ulrich Brooks and Keirsten Hodgens star as Maria Callas and Sharon in Master Class, TimeLine TheatreJanet Ulrich Brooks is masterful (pardon the expression) as Maria Callas, gritty, demanding, caustically humorous, by turns haughty and enraptured by the music in her unrelenting pursuit of excellence. The classroom setting is fitting as she makes the same demands of her students, using a tough-love, take-no-prisoners approach that is in stark contrast to the culture in the arts world today. She is uncompromising in her drive to be the best at all costs, yet in her passion for the music we see something more. Her he-said-she-said enactment of remembered conversations characterizing her relationship with Ari, as she calls Aristotle Onassis, are brilliantly brought to life by the way she holds and shifts her body as she shifts speakers.

The classroom is also a perfect reflection of the core principle of the opera star’s life. She has given herself completely to the full-throated expression of her fierce love of and respect for the music. One must take the stage upon entering and command it. “Art,” she says, “is domination.” She is as dedicated to the greatness of her students, albeit with perhaps a flash of jealousy, as to her own drive to conquer the magnificent music she performed.

Janet Ulrich Brooks and Stephen Boyer star as Maria Callas and Manny in Master Class, TimeLine TheatreJanet Ulrich Brooks stars as Maria Callas in Master Class at TimeLine Theatre Tenor Tony (Eric Anthony Lopez) with Maria Callas (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Manny (Stephen Boyer) in Master ClassMaria Callas (Janet Ulrich Brooks) with Sophie (Molly Hernández) in Master Class, TimeLine Theatre

Keirsten Hodgens takes your breath away as the last student. In fact, she takes even Callas’ breath away in her classroom performance of an aria from MacBeth. Molly Hernández, playing the student Sophie, is captivating throughout her performance, and will surely be heard from again. Stephen Boyer as Manny, the accompanist, is a sweet and warm foil to Brook’s temperamental Callas who displays his own talent with his voice as well as his piano.

Much has been written of Maria Callas, born in New York as Maria Kalogeropoulos, and for good reason. Among her legendry achievements is her performance of two demanding and dramatically different roles in the same season, heralded as an unheard of “miracle” at the time. McNally’s work also weaves in less positive things: her unhappy marriage to a man 20 years her senior and later her scandalous relationship with Aristotle Onassis, and the deep vulnerability they represent. The story of Maria Callas that Master Class portrays is fascinating. Cast by many as the outsider who struggled most of her life as the underdog, it would seem she achieves everything she’s worked so hard for. Yet there are dark spots in the shining of her star, leaving us to wonder if she really ever got what she wanted.

Rating: ★★★½

Master Class continues through December 9th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, and Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $42-$57, and are available by phone (773-327-5252) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More info at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)

Soprano Sharon (Keirsten Hodgens) with Maria Callas (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Manny (Stephen Boyer) in Master ClassTenor Tony (Eric Anthony Lopez) with Maria Callas (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Manny (Stephen Boyer) in Master Class

Photos by Lara Goetsch 




Janet Ulrich Brooks (Maria Callas), Eric Anthony Lopez (Tony), Stephen Boyer (Manny the accompanist), Molly Hernández (Sophie), Keirsten Hodgens (Sharon), Raymond Hutchison (Stagehand)

behind the scenes

Nick Bowling (director), Doug Peck (music direction), Stephen Boyer (assistant music director), Andrew Hansen (sound design, original composition), Eva Breneman (dialect designer), Maren Robinson, Lucas Garcia (co-dramaturgs), Alka Nayyar (associate director), Leah Raidt (assistant director), Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Jessica Neill (lighting design), Sally Dolembo (costume design), Vivian Knouse (prop design), Katie Cordts (wig and hair design), Luci Kersting (stage manager), Raymond Hutchison (production assistant), Liz Bendure (wardrobe supervisor), Meagan Beattie (alternate wardrobe supervisor), Bobby Huggins (technical director), Megan Pirtle (costume manager), Neal Javenkoski (master electrician), Matthew R. Chase (audio engineer), Tammer Boutros, Andrew Dallas, Luke Davis, Brian Elston, Kenny Faust, Ben Gojer, Chris Jett, Aaron Lorenz, Matt McMullen, Jacob Mulcahy, Dylan Reyno, Ian Scarlato, Jordan Tragash, Peter Wilde (production crew)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Johanna Dalton, Stage 773, Terrence McNally, TimeLine Theatre, Video, YouTube

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