Here is Part 5 of a series of interviews with the director, producer, and cast of Reston Community Players’ production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class. Meet Richard Durkin.
Maria Callas, one of the most famous opera divas of all time, is teaching a master class in front of a live audience at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage from January 15-30, 2016.
Glamorous, commanding, larger than life, caustic, and surprisingly drop-dead funny, Maria is alternately dismayed and impressed by the three students who bravely enter the music studio at Juilliard, hoping for a gram of inspiration from the famed soprano. Maria frequently retreats into recollections of her own life and triumphs at La Scala with searing monologues about the unforgiving press, her affair with Aristotle Onassis, and her sacrifice taken in the name of art.
Diane Jackson Schnoor: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Richard Durkin, and I am playing the part of Stagehand in Master Class. I’ve had the honor of appearing onstage twice with Reston Community Players, most recently as Danny and Zeus in Xanadu, and as Underling the Butler in Drowsy Chaperone. Backstage, I’ve been on the mostly unseen tech crew for several shows – as Crew #5 in the musical em>Shrek, for example, I was a part-time “rat wrangler” — jobs like that don’t come up every day! I have also performed many times with Elden Street Players over the years.
What drew you to Master Class?
Master Class is an interesting play within a play, with music intertwined – not a common happening, so it engages audiences in a different way. Also, my role called for a minimal number of rehearsals during the holiday season; that means more time spent with my family (who support my theatrical endeavors).
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to your character? What do you like most about your character? What do you like least about your character?
As the Stagehand, I am supposed to be seen doing some of the backstage work in this play, which is a change of pace. My costume will also be comfortable – jeans are much better than the carpet-weight costume I once wore in Love’s Labors Lost. My least favorite part of this role? Sitting around between my scenes. But the play really is NOT about me, so that is perfectly okay.
What is your favorite line in the show (yours or somebody else’s) and why?
My favorite line is Sophie’s “Oh” – it is amazing how much feeling can be conveyed with just one word. I think her “Oh” line certainly beats my “Hunh?” line any day!
What advice and suggestions has the director given you that you have found most helpful as you prepare for your role?
I like that Rosemary Hartman has given me specific direction to be snarky, something I don’t normally get to do. Snarky can be fun! Rosemary is also great at bringing out the backstory in the characters we play. It brings texture to the role when I think about the Stagehand’s life, the tiny apartment in which he lives, the number of demanding/petulant artists he has served over the years, where he wanted to be in his career versus where he ended up, and so on. And if we can add our own personal experience to the role, so much the better for us and for the audience.
What is your favorite scene in Master Class that you are in and why?
The scene in which I stare down Lisa Bailey, the woman who plays Maria Callas, after I say “I don’t have a supervisor” – that is my power grab. The Stagehand may not be as famous as Callas, but he can be just as feisty.
What is your favorite scene in Master Class that you are not in and why?
I like watching the scene where Maria reminisces about a past performance while listening to the music from her show. It takes excellent timing to talk, and listen, and pause for the right amount of time to make the scene work. Music and sound cues also have to be tailored to fit. It’s an art.
What makes Master Class special or unique?
Special or unique? I’d refer you back to the first sentence of my answer to question #2. There aren’t many shows like this.
What I admire most about this company is that we respect and like one another, and are dedicated to making this the best possible show for our audiences. That, and the singing. I have not listened to a lot of opera performances, but the quality of the singing in this show is delightful to the ear.
What is the most frightening or daunting thing about presenting Master Class?
Unlike a number of other productions at Reston Community Players, the set for this show is relatively sparse, so the attention will be on the actors. We’ll be drawing the audiences to focus on what we do, more than on how we look or what is happening around us. Challenging, but we are up to the challenge.
What do you hope audiences take away from seeing Master Class?
Good question. I’m hoping it will be an appreciation for seeing “behind the scenes” in the lives of characters who can appear bigger than life on stage, but who have their own human trials and tribulations offstage. And yet, when onstage, these big characters have to overcome their limitations. As Maria puts it so well, “Try isn’t good enough. Do. The theatre isn’t about trying. People don’t leave their homes to watch us try. They come to see us do.” So come see us, do!
Master Class plays from January 15-30, 2016 at Reston Community Players performing at CenterStage at the Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 476-4500, then press 3 for the 24-hour ticket ordering system, or purchase them online.
CenterStage is handicap accessible and offers listening devices for the hearing impaired.
Meet the Cast, Director, and Producer of Reston Community Players’ ‘Master Class’: Part 1: Director Rosemary Hartman and Producer Kate Keifer.
Meet the Cast of Reston Community Players’ ‘Master Class’: Part 2: Lisa Anne Bailey.
Meet the Cast of Reston Communty Players’ ‘Master Class’: Part 4: Molly Pinson Simoneau.
Meet the Cast of Reston Communty Players’ ‘Master Class’: Part 5: Richard Durkin.