Sunday, October 26, 2008


I've always had the impression that Cherie Gil was a diva.

I remember a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" (a V-Day celebration, I think) where, during the curtain call, she looked and acted that way. I got the impression that she was basking in the applause and felt that she deserved every little bit. Which struck me as diva-ish since there were other actresses involved in the production. 

Perhaps it's the combination of her physical features – the eyes, the height, that nose – and her numerous turns as contrabida in whatever movie she's in. The mestiza is one of only two things: the bimbo or the oppressor, and Cherie Gil (See, you can never refer to her using her first or last name only, she's always Cherie Gil) is best when she's playing the former, throwing water on Sharon Cuneta uttering that famous line.

But Maria Callas wasn't an oppressor (at least not according to the play) and Cherie Gil plays this perfectly. No cattiness, just professionalism colored by a little bit of narcissism.

Terence McNally's “Master Class”is set wherever the play is being performed, with Maria Callas addressing the audience as students. Even before the house lights dim the guy playing the pianist Manny is already cleaning up and tinkering with the baby grand on stage.

Then La Divina enters, captures everyone's attention, and tells the audience not to take pictures.

What follows is a lot of witty repartee and a discussion on what it means to be a performer and an artist. Callas proceeds to explain and demonstrate how singing is more than just technique. From the pretty girl with short skirt and a happy disposition to the capable but insecure soprano singing Medea to opera stud Tony "Tightpants” Candelino, Callas demolishes her students, admonishes them, and leaves them a little bit better than they were before.

But this isn't the story of three students who learned from the best; the show is about Maria Callas, the world's greatest diva. Apart from the permeable fourth wall the play's other conceit is flashback monologues. As her students sing she recalls herself singing those parts and reminisces her past performances segueing into her personal life. We catch glimpses of a hard, troubled past and a life dedicated to art and we understand why she is the way she is. 

She reminisces because other people don't matter. She's given all of herself as an artist and a person that she feels she deserves all the adulation she receives (or demands). And just as we're getting to know her the music ends and the class is finished. 

And we all stand up as she takes a long, long bow. She has given her all and (for now, at least) the divine Cherie Gil deserves all the adulation she gets. 

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