Time flies during “Master Class,” the Tony-winning play by Terrence McNally that opened Friday. Not because it moves through the years – most of it takes place during a few hours on a single day – but because it’s over too soon and we’re left wanting more. More stories, more singing, and more Sally Wingert, who takes on the daunting role of diva Maria Callas and fills it with power and passion, hilarity and sorrow.
Theater Latté Da’s director, Peter Rothstein, set his production at MacPhail Center for Music’s Antonello Hall. Acoustically sublime, seating only about 250, it’s a place where real master classes take place. As the audience, we’re part of the play. The rest of the cast includes Andrew Gourgoin as Callas’ stoic pianist; Paul Von Stoetzel as a lumpish stagehand; and Kira Lace Hawkins, Benjamin Dutcher and Kelsey Stark D’Emilio as hopeful young Juilliard students who have signed up for their moments with La Divina. They come expecting pointers, praise, a brush with fame or “feedback,” a word Callas reacts to as if it were a cockroach in her dressing room. Each is berated and harshly critiqued, yet each is smart enough to listen, watch and learn.
The singing by Hawkins (Rothstein’s Sallie Bowles in “Cabaret”), Dutcher and D’Emilio is superb. (And super hard: famous arias by Bellini, Puccini and Verdi.) Except for a single unforgettable note, Wingert doesn’t sing (although she did as Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret”); at this late stage, Callas had lost her voice. But she could teach, and she could remember moments from her incredible life.
Opera stars were yesterday’s supermodels, pursued by wealthy men, their lives tabloid fodder. At several moments during “Master Class,” the lights change and we’re drawn into Callas’ past, her years on the world’s stage, her suffering as an artist, her insecurities, rivalries, triumphs and fraught relationship with Aristotle Onassis, who sounds like a brute.
The first time Wingert as Callas steps back into memory, she does it without saying a word. As Hawkins sings an aria from “Macbeth,” Wingert walks slowly to the back of the stage, passes behind the piano, and leans against a wall. Standing still, facing away from us, she pulls our whole attention like a magnet, and we know, or think we know, where she is: on stage at La Scala. That’s acting. When she voices the single syllable “O!” (which she does often throughout the play, as an exclamation), it comes from deep in her chest, carrying weight and sometimes pain.
And yet, despite the awareness that we’re seeing a star fading – “Master Class” takes place five years before Callas’ death – this is a very funny play. Wingert slings zingers with abandon. On Joan Sutherland: “She did her best … A 12-foot Lucia de Lammermoor? I don’t think so.” On stage behavior: “Never move on your applause. It shortens it.” Calling in a student: “Next victim!” There’s a lot of laughter in Antonello Hall, something we weren’t expecting, and one of the reasons we wished the play were longer than its two hours. Through Nov. 2. FMI and tickets ($35–$45). Tip: The center of the hall is raked, the sides are not. While we generally like sitting on the sides at Antonello, if you’re behind someone tall, your view might be obstructed.
The Jungle Theater has announced its 25th anniversary season, Bain Boehlke’s last as artistic director, though he has promised to return to the theater he founded to act and direct on occasion. The 2015 line-up starts with a bang: the Jungle’s eighth production of “Gertrude Stein and a Companion,” with Claudia Wilkens and Barbara Kingsley (opens Jan. 3). Can we get tickets now? Starting April 3, Bradley Greenwald stars in “And the World Goes ’Round,” with songs from “New York, New York,” “Cabaret,” “Chicago” and more. The summer show (June 19) is the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” with Boehlke as Grandpa and Wendy Lehr as Olga Katrina. Joel Sass directs the regional premiere of the new play “Annapurna” by Sharr White (Sept. 25) and also the season closer, Conor McPherson’s “The Night Alive” (Nov. 6).
We tried and failed to score Garth Brooks tickets, maybe because the country music superstar was busy breaking his single-city North American ticket sales record. What started as three shows quickly became 11, all selling like, well, like Garth Brooks shows: as of Monday, over 188,000 tickets were gone. Before then, his record was 162,833 tickets for nine shows in guess where, Minneapolis. It seems we love us some Garth.
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre has named Catherine Jordan its interim executive director as it navigates tricky financial straits. Jordan, a recent winner of Artspace’s prestigious Paul Brawner Art for Support of the Arts, brings a wealth of experience – with the WARM Art Gallery, the Bush Foundation, the Cultural Star Fund of St. Paul, Intermedia Arts, and HOBT’s board, among many others – and what board chair Kirstin Wiegmann and artistic director Sandy Spieler describe as “a renewed sense of calm, confidence and stability.”
Under interim president and CEO Kevin Smith, the Minnesota Orchestra, back for its first full season since the lockout, had a strong September. From a list of positive numbers issued by Smith last week, these stand out: Over 40 percent of the ticketed guests who attended a season opening concert had not been to a performance at Orchestra Hall in the past five years, and/or this was the first Minnesota Orchestra concert they had ever attended. Drilling down, 2,400 returned for the first time in over 5 years, and 1,850 came for the very first time. Some 15,000 people attended the six opening events: the gala, the Lake Harriet concert, the season sampler, and the opening concerts. More than 4,000 Minnesota Orchestra buttons were snapped up, and more than 700 lawn signs. And the orchestra traveled 450 miles to and from Bemidji, where it spent a week-long residency.
Tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 14) at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts: An Evening of Fine Wine and Fine Books. Sip on wines, nibble on cheeses, and view the exhibition by this year’s Jerome Book Arts fellows including a shoemaker, a sculptor and a tattoo artist. Books that “break the bindings.” 6 to 9 p.m. FMI. Free.
Tonight at the Minnesota History Center: “The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Minnesota.” Author Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle takes us back to the time when the Klan was at its height in our state, with 51 active chapters and members who ran local businesses, served as church deacons, played town ball and won elections. In the History Lounge. 7 p.m. FMI. Free.
Tonight at the Weisman: Stacey D’Erasmo reads from “Wonderland,” a rare work of fiction about a woman musician. Anna Brundage, a 44-year-old has-been rocker, records a comeback album and hits the road. 7 p.m. FMI. Free.
Tonight at the new Walker Community Church: “Rough Cuts: Empire Builder.” In its 21st season of sneak peeks at new works, Nautilus Music-Theater presents a concert reading of the new musical by Ann Bertram and George Maurer. Three travelers meet on the “Empire Builder” train westbound from Chicago, which becomes a time machine. The flagship passenger train of the Great Northern Railway, the “Empire Builder” was named for the railway’s CEO, James J. Hill. 7:30 p.m. 3104 16th Ave. at 31st St. Free cookies and milk. Limited seating. $5 or pay-as-able.
Wednesday through Friday (Oct. 15–17) at the Walker: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s “Rosas danst Rosas.” Dance fans have been talking for months about this 31-year-old dance, now considered a masterwork by one of the defining choreographers of our time. Minimalist, feminist and groundbreaking, it’s De Keersmaeker’s signature piece. Try it yourself. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($28/$32). This will be the Midwest premiere. If you arrive late, you won’t be seated, and there’s no intermission.
Thursday (Oct. 16) at the O’Shaughnessy: Sweet Honey in the Rock. Founder Bernice Johnson Reagon and longtime member Ysaye Barnwell have both retired, but the legendary female a capella group lives on. Their 40th anniversary show is a scrapbook of their long and distinguished legacy of making music with deep roots in the African-American community. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($19–$43).