BWW Reviews: MASTER CLASS Has Presence Now Through Nov 6

"Master Class" is all about presence, and Hillbarn Theatre definitely has presence. A small theatre with big ambitions, the company has successfully helmed a play that requires presence - a lot of presence - especially from its actors.

These actors either sing some of the more difficult songs of opera or memorize over an hour's worth of lines without many breaks, the latter being one actress in particular who portrays "La Divina," one of the most famous opera singers who ever lived, the Divina who lived a life as tragic as those of the characters she played: Maria Callas. Callas has so much presence that "Master Class" could very well be considered a one-person show if it weren't for the shining co-stars playing the smaller roles.

With a small stage and minimal sets, "Master Class" demands the attention of its audience as they watch Maria Callas giving master class lessons to three young singers, simultaneously living both the triumphs and the tragedies of her past: love, loss, abortion, criticisms, and the stage. Callas, herself, never sings in the play, but her students do, and they do a lovely job at it, too.

Monica Cappuccini commands the stage as Maria Callas, coming into her own during the second act. While she lacks the more aggressive, intimidating presence found in other portrayals of Callas and is sometimes hard to follow during her first act monologue, Cappuccini has Callas' accent down to a "T," and her mannerisms are spot-on. She especially excels during the softer, more emotional parts of the play, as Callas shows her students how to act as if they are the characters they're singing, how to have presence. Cappuccini's facial expressions are exceptionally moving during her second act monologue in which she recounts Callas' love that led her to get an abortion.

Cappuccini's costars have an equally strong presence on stage. SusAnna Jimenez as the young Sophie DePalma and Jenny Matteucci as the dramatic soprano Sharon Graham (the character is double cast with Marcelle Dronkers playing at certain performances) have beautiful voices for their young age. And audiences may get some extra enjoyment from the fact that Matteucci plays next to her husband, Daniel Lockert, whose fingers easily glide over the piano keys, providing beautiful accompaniment for the few times the students sing.

Gabriel Cohen, who plays the third student, a tenor, does not show as much progress as a student as perhaps he should (especially considering how much praise Callas gives his character at the end of his lesson), but he has a pleasant voice. That's more than what can be said for the one note Cappuccini lets out, which would have been better left out. But it's not a singing role, even if the character is a singer, and Cappuccini succeeds in what she's meant to do - so much so that she earned a standing ovation.

For a community theatre, Hillbarn Theatre certainly deserves a standing ovation. It's a "master" at what it does, and it has a lot of "class." As Maria Callas might say, it knows how to exude presence.

Master Class, by Terrence McNally

Now through November 6, 2011

Hillbarn Theatre - Foster City, California


Photos Courtesy of Hillbarn Theatre


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From This Author Harmony Wheeler

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