Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s MASTER CLASS Is A Lesson In What Theater Is All About

Master Class, featuring Angela Iannone (L) and Alicia Berneche. Mark Frohna / Milwaukee Chaber Theatre

Master Class, featuring Angela Iannone (L) and Alicia Berneche. Mark Frohna / Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

Highly Recommended

Reviewed by: Matthew Perta

To hear Maria Callas is to understand her.

When the renowned opera diva walks on stage in the opening act of Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning play Master Class, now being performed at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, she asks the audience if they can hear her.  There are no microphones in the theater, she affirms, because we must learn to listen.

And when we do listen, boy, do we get a lesson in what theater is all about: Hearing. Feeling. Giving all you have to your audience. Having a presence on stage. Understanding the human heart. Paying attention to detail.

Angela Iannone, an award-winning regional stage actress whose credits range from playing Marie Lombardi in Lombardi to Lady MacBeth to Kate Hepburn in Tea at Five, is winning rave reviews – not to mention a standing ovation at the performance I attended, for her portrayal of opera icon Callas in Master Class.  McNally’s play is interactive, with Callas talking to her audience while attempting to coach a trio of students.  While Iannone receives outstanding support from the small cast, it is impossible to take your eyes off Iannone because of her commanding presence on stage.  Her Callas is infused such with passion, anger, sadness and humor one can only wonder what the real Callas would think of Iannone’s portrayal.

When images of the famed opera house La Scala are projected across the stage accompanied by a soundtrack of Callas’ voice, Iannone leads the audience on a journey back to her glory days; when her voice breaks during a coaching session with a student, Iannone makes us feel the heartbreak that comes from downside of a operatic career.

The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, tucked inside the Broadway Theatre Center at 158 N. Broadway in the city’s Historic Third Ward district, is celebrating the start of its 40th season with this finely-executed production.  If you’re looking for a short, late-summer getaway to Milwaukee I strongly recommend taking in this riveting production of Master Class.  But hurry, the show wraps up its run on August 24.  For tickets, call (414) 291-7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com.