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Master Class

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MASTER CLASS, Northlight Theatre, at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Playing the Shubert last year in Terrence McNally's ode to Maria Callas, Faye Dunaway never let us forget she was Faye Dunaway. But Carmen Roman in this Northlight production immerses herself in the role, which demands as much witchcraft as impersonation. "Presence" is a weak word for the command Roman brings to the stage.

McNally's freely imagined re-creation of a Callas class at the Juilliard remains an active meditation on the price art exacts. As Callas browbeats or seduces her "victims," she affirms a credo of discipline, concentration, and continuous struggle. To the students' exasperation, Callas grandly contradicts herself or changes rules on a whim. To the audience's shock, McNally employs the most glorious arias to trigger the ugliest memories.

Roman's Maria is intimidating, magnificent, and forgivably human. Though her one moment of song evokes Callas's smoky glory, what impresses most is the character's unexpected vulnerability. Director Peter Amster helps show how the diva's shifts from patience to petulance come from the artist's complexity: Callas offers her students at least as much to avoid as to imitate. Jeff Kelly provides solid musical support. And Melissa La France, as the one student who defies the teacher, strongly suggests a Callas to come.

--Lawrence Bommer

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