MASTER CLASS, Shubert Theatre. Call this one “Diva Dearest.” Despite Faye Dunaway’s detailed technique and the passion she brings to Maria Callas’s accent, expressions, body language, and hair, you never forget that this is a celluloid legend riding Terrence McNally’s vehicle to a future film. Unlike Meryl Streep, Dunaway does not disappear into her roles. And when the part’s as complex as this one, it’s hard to blame her.
To both expose and celebrate La Divina, McNally shows us Callas giving master classes at the Juilliard School of Music. A captious, often contradictory taskmistress, she denounces a student’s lack of “the look” at the same time she exalts passion over posing. A terrible teacher, she reduces a plump student to tears and insists that no one should try to imitate her, then illustrates exactly how she strode onstage as Lady Macbeth.
McNally gives Callas several mad scenes, and Dunaway probes these surrealistic episodes more successfully than she does her byplay with the students. Providing cunning contrast to Callas’s gospel of art over life are the three student “victims,” as Callas sardonically calls them: Melinda Klump as a silly soprano, Kevin Paul Anderson as an unthreatening tenor, and Suzan Hanson as a future diva who actually stands up to the eternal one. Audience surrogates, the students both live out our fantasies and suffer for our sins.