Even in conversation about the upcoming production of "Master Class," Anne Cullimore Decker and David Mong fall into character.
Salt Lake Acting Company's revival of the Terrence McNally play presents an intimate view of Maria Callas, the larger-than-life soprano, as she lectures and works with students. McNally based the work on the master classes Callas taught at New York's Juilliard School of Music in the 1970s, when her voice was broken and her career had faded.
Decker first played the glamorous, commanding, drop-dead-funny Callas in a SLAC production in 1998, which Mong directed. Reprising the role is terribly exciting and frightening for the well-known local actor. It's a privilege, Decker said, to revisit the role 11 years later with a better understanding of who Callas was.
"She really did get to me," Decker said of her iconic character. "The fact that she was a real person. She was the epitome of a dedicated, committed, passionate artist."
Of course, the actor isn't the only one touched by Callas' story, which Decker underscored in an interview by turning to Paul Dorgan, an adjunct professor of music at the University of Utah, who plays the singer's accompanist in the play. "You've been in love with Maria for a long time," Decker said.
Blushing, Dorgan agreed. "She was everything," he said of the woman known as "La Divina." "But one of the interesting things about her is that we don't know a lot about her."
One thing that is known is her dedication to music, which only added to her reputation as a diva. "Her voice was totally different from anything that had been heard," Dorgan said. "You get beyond that sound and you think 'What is she doing?' It's so extraordinary."
Aside from having to learn lines, playing the accompanist is nothing new to Dorgan, who has performed in his share of master classes. "I didn't have to dig very deep," he joked.
The three students in the class are played by Natalie Blackman, Shane Haag and Stefanie Londino, all of whom are enrolled or recently graduated from the University of Utah, each performing at SLAC for the first time.
"It's so human," Mong said about the mass appeal of the show. "Everything that Maria goes through and everything we learn about her is all human regardless of what she did. It speaks to anyone who has been in love and it didn't turn out so well, or to anyone who sacrificed for what [he or she] wanted to do."
Salt Lake Acting Company presents "Master Class."
When » Previews at 7:30 p.m. Oct.14-15, opens at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 and continues Wednesdays-Sundays through Nov. 8.
Where » 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City. After the show opens, curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets » $35 subscribers, $40 groups, $50; available at 801-363-7522. In addition, call the theater for information about free Tuesday performances.