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September 29, 1999

Weston Playhouse to Perform "Master Class" at Middlebury College Concert Hall on Oct. 19 -- Performance is a Regional Premiere

The Weston Playhouse Theatre Company (WPTC) will perform a production of "Master Class," a Broadway hit written by Terrence McNally, in the Concert Hall of the Middlebury College Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19. The play is loosely based on a series of classes which the famed opera diva Maria Callas offered at New York City's Juilliard School in the early 1970s. This performance is part of the Weston Playhouse's third New England tour and is a regional premiere.

Praised by the critics as "rich, vivid, satisfying theatre," a "total triumph," and "mesmerizing," "Master Class" swept the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for best play in 1996.

A tour de force of acting and singing, the play shows the semi-retired Callas after a string of downfalls. She has lost her singing voice and is teaching talented but nervous young singers before a live audience. As she chides, cajoles, demonstrates and inspires, she often lets her mind wander to experiences from her own fantastic life and career. The play opens with Callas, who died in 1977, at the end of her life after Aristotle Onassis has left her to marry Jacqueline Kennedy.

Callas will be portrayed by actress Patricia Norcia, who has appeared in plays on Broadway as well as in off-Broadway productions in many of the nation's top regional theaters. She has been in other Weston performances, including "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Lend Me A Tenor." Norcia is particularly suited to play the role of Callas. She was born into a family of Italian opera singers, has herself directed and performed in numerous operas, and has taught her own master classes in voice and speech. Further, she has played her acclaimed solo show, "The World of Ruth Draper," countless times at New York's Carnegie Recital Hall, the inspiration for the setting of the Broadway production of "Master Class."

Norcia will be supported by performer and musical director Michael Hicks in the role of Manny, the accompanist. The three "victims," as Callas half-jokingly calls her students, will be played by newcomers Mardie Millit, Matthew Nelson, and Melissa La France. The stagehand will be played by Jerome Burke. The ensemble is under the direction of Weston Playhouse Producing Director Steve Stettler, whose credits include the WPTC's first New England Tour, "Dancing at Lughnasa," and its recent triumphant revival of the opera house version of Bernstein's "Candide." The set is by Russell Parkman, with lighting by Stuart Duke, costumes by Martha Hally, and sound by Duncan Edwards. Malcolm Ewen is production stage manager.

Based in Weston, the WPTC is Vermont's oldest professional theatre company. Honored by the New England Theatre Conference with a 1998 Regional Achievement Award for its contribution to the region's theatrical life, the WPTC is the first theatre company in its area to be given the rights to perform "Master Class."

Tickets for this Middlebury College Concert Series performance are $9 general admission and $7 for senior citizens. There is reserved seating for this event. To order tickets, call the College box office at 802-443-6433.