Reviewed by Dana Martin
The Garry Marshall Theatre
Through October 22
The inaugural season of the Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon Theatre) begins with a lesson longed learned: creating art takes balls. Its first production, Terrence McNally’s Master Class, focuses on the legendary master classes conducted by opera diva Maria Callas at the Juilliard School in the early 70’s. Callas, a genius with a tumultuous and often fraught personal life, possessed inherently elegant grit. She was certainly eccentric, and often harsh in her criticism. But her underlying passion was for the craft and beauty of her art, and she demanded that her students dig deep. She emphasized technique, courage and discipline, and compelled her students to live each moment truthfully.
Carolyn Hennesy dominates the stage for two delicious hours in a performance that is not-to-be-missed. She is precise, detailed, disciplined, courageous: the embodiment of Callas. She stands unapologetically in the center of her own power, the culmination of years of study and practice, and allows herself to be deeply vulnerable, unafraid to get ugly and weak. She’s supportive and generous with her scene partners while ravaging them totally or receiving them completely, or allowing herself to be moved by moments of genius in each of their performances. She’s a master of her craft and her work is splendid. She gives us everything.
The supporting cast delivers their own formidable talent. Roy Abramsohn provides a steadfast quality as Manny, the reliable and incredibly skilled accompanist. Maegan Mcconnell delightfully demurs as doe-eyed Sophie de Palma, Landon Shaw II charms as tenacious tenor Anthony Candolino, and Aubrey Trujillo-Scarr dominates as aspiring diva Sharon Graham. The contrasting pace of Jeff Campanella’s Stagehand derails the drive of the play in the most delightful ways.
Director Dimitri Toscas gives the characters space to be giants and geniuses while the direction itself is tight and precise. Scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture creates a music hall that is appropriately grand and sparse. Lighting design by JM Montecalvo is unexpectedly exciting, particularly when the play examines the depths of Callas’ psyche. Sound designer Robert Arturo Ramirez creates a masterful soundscape (mixed at levels particularly sensitive to the performers’ volume) that rounds out the world of the play, blending live music with the music in Callas’ mind, in her memory. It is rich and detailed. Callas herself says that the detail is in the music, but that’s another story.
Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 West Riverside Drive, Burbank; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 22. (818) 955-8101 or GarryMarshallTheatre.org. Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with an intermission.