NEW YORK - Master Class is a play about Maria Callas, but its Broadway revival that opened Thursday night is just as much about a theatrical master, Tyne Daly. She shines as she plays Callas with the solid authority one would expect of the opera singer people cheered as La Divina, and with a real handle on Callas' regrets, quirks and demons.
Daly channels Callas in a steady and sure production staged by Stephen Wadsworth, an occasional director at the Metropolitan Opera. Unlike the original explosive version with Zoe Caldwell - a world premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in 1995 that went on to Broadway and to win the best-play Tony in 1996 - the revival's pensive quality gives Daly room to reflect, to stunning result. She delivers more without moving a single facial muscle than many actors say with a wide range of emotions.
Daly's ploy - freezing an expression, timing it perfectly, thinking but never revealing just what's going through her character's head - leaves us hankering for the next line of Terrence McNally's shimmering script, when Daly puts Callas' thoughts into words with maximum impact, My friend Jeff, at the theater with me, effectively likened the performance of Daly, a Tony and multiple Emmy winner, to the screen style of Bette Davis; each can convey the essence of a character in both animated speech and immobile silence.
Daly moves easily around the stage in the Manhattan Theatre Club production, a self-made empress in a black pant-suit and heels, her sharp eye highlights sealing the deal; there's no question that she's a natural mixture of warmth and imperiousness.