Moore OnStage Presents Award-Winning Play
Terrence McNally's award-winning play, "Master Class," brightens up the stage of the Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines for just four performances next week from Thursday, March 26, through Sunday, March 29.
Warmly received by New York critics, with such notices as "A play of notable wit, humanity and insight." "Master Class" has also been called "pyrotechnical theater."
At the play's core is legendary diva Maria Callas, a glamorous, commanding, larger-than-life, caustic and surprisingly very funny head of a voice master class.
As director of the Moore OnStage production Jerry Sipp explains, "You don't have to be an opera lover, or necessarily follow Maria Callas' career, to enjoy the play. The strongest appeal about the piece is that it works on so many different levels.
"It has deeper themes about art and the sacrifices it takes to become a great artist. Most people are not aware of the dedication given by actors, singers, musicians or other performers at the expense of everyday routines, family or romantic relationships, Callas achieved an enormous success as an opera singer, but she paid a terrific price."
Jerry Sipp has an impressive and varied career in theater in North Carolina. He served as artistic director for Temple Theatre in Sanford for four seasons, and also was director at The Playhouse Theatre in Rocky Mount for seven years.
In addition, he was co-founder of Trio Productions, a successful touring educational theater that performed across the United States and in Scotland. Directing nearly 100 productions, as an actor he has appeared in 100 more.
"Callas is very witty and dominated the stage and everyone around her," he says. "In the play, she retreats into recollections about the glories of her own life and career while she is listening to the students she is coaching and critiquing. She works with them sometimes in harsh and hurtful ways, but always with an urgency to push them to give the performances of their lives."
Sipp believes that if "Master Class" was just a comedy, or a drama, biography or even just a straight play with music (which it is), there would be a traditional way to approach directing the play. However, it combines all these genres.
"The richness of the material demands a special process to present all sides of the story," he says.
"It could be viewed as a one-person show, but I have tried to make it so much more than that -- the relationships between the singers and Callas call for contrast and a collaborative effort among the actors in the cast."
To play this difficult role, Moore OnStage producer Cinny Beggs chose Lynda Clark, accomplished actress, director and coach whose career has spanned television, films and significant roles in regional theater.
Clark has portrayed such characters as Lady Macbeth and Queen Gertrude in "Hamlet," as well as performing in other bravura roles such as those in "Dangerous Liaisons," "All The King's Men," "The Lion in Winter," "Streetcar Named Desire," "King Lear," and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Audiences have applauded her work at Raleigh's Theatre in the Park, Burning Coal Theatre, at Peace College, North Carolina Theatre, Temple Theatre, University Theatre, East Carolina Playhouse and Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy Repertory.
"Playing Callas is such a great opportunity," Clark says. "It is a chance to literally dive into a complicated role. This was an extraordinary woman, and I am here to tell her story for the audience and let them imagine what she was really like and to try to understand her."
Completely immersing herself in the part, Lynda Clark relied on various resources including biographies, videotapes and recordings.
"I wanted to become familiar with the way she spoke, and moved, and how she sang," Clark says.
"I searched for clues as to what made her so charismatic, and I was very intrigued by her ability to bridge the gap between the different styles of opera, as she switched easily from Wagnerian roles to parts usually sung by a coloratura soprano."
From all her research of "La Divina" as Callas was known, Lynda Clark thinks that the singer's belief in herself and her supreme self-confidence made it possible for her to transcend any obstacles that were placed in her way -- from the time she first started studying voice to later on in her career.
"She wasn't afraid to fail, and subsequently she would soar above her own missteps," Clark says.
"Master Class" is based on a series of such classes that Callas gave at Juilliard School in New York City in the winter of 1971-1972, and focuses on three students: two sopranos, and one tenor.
Portraying the tenor is Patrick Michael Wickham, a pioneer in successfully combining the fields of voice technique, structural integration and social physiology.
Wickham is founder and creative director of Wickham Vocal Studios in New York City, with branches in Atlanta and Southern Pines.
Wickham's own vocal training took place at Vanderbilt's Blair School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School. He has sung with the New York City Opera, and has toured the United States in operas, musicals and most recently appeared on Cunard's Queen Mary II. A prolific and published composer, he is currently involved in the completion of his fifth musical production.
The first soprano to come under Maria Callas' scrutiny in "Master Class" is played by Anne Butler. A Duke University graduate in theater studies, she has performed for Virginia's Barter Theater in such productions as "Oliver" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and for the Barter Players, appearing in children's theater productions. Recently, she was seen as Ophelia in Temple Theatre's "Hamlet" and will also appear in its April production of "Little Women, the Musical."
Ginny Buckner has the part of the other soprano to perform for Maria Callas. A recent graduate of Elon University with a bachelor's degree in acting, this past fall she studied Italian and opera at the Accedemia Europa di Firenze in Italy, and her credits include "The Robber Bridegroom," "Julius Caesar" and "The Secret Garden."
Accompanying the singers is Sarah Edwards. She is constantly surprised with what she learns from "doing" theater.
She has appeared locally in "Annie Warbucks," "Big River," and "Sorry, Wrong Number" and has stage managed productions for Moore OnStage, the Sandbox Players and Sandhills Theatre Company. She is currently the interim music director at the Congregational Church of Pinehurst UCC.
"Master Class," sponsored by Pine Gables of Aberdeen Bed and Breakfast, runs from Thursday, March 26, through Saturday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee performance Sunday, March 29 at 2 p.m.
All seats are reserved and reservations may be made by calling (910) 692-7118. Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for students 18 and under
Producer Cinny Beggs cautions that some aspects of the show may not be suitable for younger audiences. However, she says that she hopes no one misses this play just because they may not be familiar with it -- and also stresses that the play is not an opera even though it is about an opera diva.
"When I first saw 'Master Class' several years ago, I was mesmerized by the actress who played Maria Callas," Beggs says. "The range of that character is so widespread from joy to sadness, to humility to anger, that just watching it was a theatrical tour de force. The playwright captured the total essence of what it is truly like to excel in a lonely profession, from the sacrifices of a personal nature to the adulation of the masses without the true love. I am so privileged to have the caliber of professional actors who will be on the stage."
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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