BWW Reviews: MASTER CLASS Is A Theatrical Masterstroke At Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre

Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre's MASTER CLASS, playing through November 10, is the first MUST SEE production of the desert's 2013-2014 theatrical season! It is what you might call a "triple threat" production --- one of Terrance McNally's finest books, a superb (that is putting it mildly) leading lady, and a production that fits CV-Rep's intimate space like a glove. The only real disappointment in the evening was the half full theatre - a tragedy! This production DESERVES an audience and I place it squarely atop my list of "run - don't walk to get your tickets before the final curtain' evenings in the theatre.

Marina Re's Maria Callas is pitch perfect! It is one of the finest, most nuanced performances I have seen here in the Valley in the past two years. Re brings a subtlety and substance to Callas that is nothing short of remarkable - in fact, I have seen Master Class on numerous occasions and this is the first time I can say that I was totally "swept away". Terrance McNally's book is exquisite and Re is more than up to the challenge. She possesses both the emotional depth and the comic chops necessary to bring "flesh and blood" to the text and captivates at every turn. Master Class might be described as a two hour monologue interrupted here and there by a few supporting characters and Re delivered it all with the skill and aplomb of the most seasoned actor in the business. SHE is worth the price of admission. A lush and layered performance!!

Ron Celona's direction is as it should be - invisible. And I mean that as a high compliment. His skill and deft direction are apparent from word one and he carefully guides his actors to bring THEIR best to the stage rather than trying to make us aware of his own. You are keenly aware that an artful director was at the helm but he never intrudes on the collaboration between actor and text.

Steven Smith, as Manny the accompanist, is charming and charismatic and the perfect foil for Re --- they have a natural chemistry that feels, at all times, honest and very real.

It is only in the three supporting characters - the students -- that I find an "Achille's Heel" in the overall production. It is apparent they were cast for their voices, which are stellar. When they sing they score! However, right down the line, their dramatic turns go from "Master Class" to "Acting 101". And the difficulty is that, because Re is so spot on --- so brilliantly believable -, the students constantly and consistently take the audience out of the "reality" and remind us that we are watching a play. They "mug" and "indicate" and "overplay" all over the place and are an inconsistent counterpoint to Re's honesty. All three deserve MAJOR kudos for their voices --- and each has a wonderfully endearing, natural presence --- but McNally's text deserves a more toned-down and honest performance.

Jimmy Cuomo's scenic design is perfectly tailored to the both the space and the play.

I can sum up the overall experience in three words. "GO SEE IT"!!

For tickets or further information about "Master Class" or The Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre visit www.cvrep.org.


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