Maria Callas is teaching a master class in front of an audience (us). She's glamorous, commanding, larger than life—and drop-dead funny. An accompanist sits at the piano. Callas' first "victim" is Sophie, a ridiculous, overly-perky soprano, dressed all in pink. Sophie chooses to sing one of the most difficult arias, the sleepwalking scene from La Sonnambula—an aria that Callas made famous. Before the girl sings a note, Callas stops her—she clearly can't stand hearing music massacred. And now what has started out as a class has become a platform for Callas. She glories in her own career, dabbles in opera dish and flat-out seduces the audience. Callas gets on her knees and acts the entire aria in dumb show, eventually reducing the poor singer to tears. But with that there are plenty of laughs going on, especially between Callas and the audience. Callas pulls back and gives Sophie a chance to use what she's learned. As soon as Sophie starts singing, though, Callas mentally leaves the room and goes into a sprawling interior monologue about her own performance of that aria and the thunderous applause she received at La Scala. Callas wakes up and sends Sophie off with a pat. The next two sessions repeat the same dynamic, only the middle session is with a tenor who moves Callas to tears. She again enters her memories, and we learn about Callas' affair with Aristotle Onassis; an abortion she was forced to have; her first elderly husband whom she left; her early days as an ugly duckling; the fierce hatred of her rivals; and the unforgiving press that savaged her at first. Finally, we meet Sharon, another soprano, who arrives in a full ball gown. With Sharon singing, Callas is genuinely moved, for the young singer has talent, but Callas tells her to stick to flimsy roles. Sharon is devastated and spits back every nasty thing you've ever heard about Callas: She's old, washed up; she ruined her voice too early in her career; she only wants people to worship her, etc. Sharon rushes out of the hall, and Callas brings the class to a close with a beautiful speech about the sacrifices we must make in the name of art.
"…For Mr. McNally, the play demonstrates his ability to create rich, vivid, satisfying theater…MASTER CLASS is an unembarrassed, involving meditation on Callas' life and the nature of her art. Such subjects are not easily dramatized, certainly not with this brio." —NY Times. "Terrence McNally's new play MASTER CLASS…will be talked about for years to come whenever people point to theater experiences that genuinely deserve to be labeled by the overused word 'great.'" —The Hollywood Reporter. "It is Terrence McNally's total triumph in his MASTER CLASS…This is a night to remember." —NY Post. "Get a ticket: MASTER CLASS is mesmerizing theater." —Star-Ledger.