Capsule Reviews 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Master Class -- The life of Maria Callas is still studded with mysteries. One of the greatest opera singers of all time, she redefined the form. Conductors fell over themselves pulling out operas that had languished in obscurity because there was finally someone capable of singing them. She was a consummate artist who worked incredibly hard on every aspect of her craft, yet her artistry was often overshadowed by public distortion of her troubled personal life. Her troubled childhood with a domineering mother, her marriage to the much older Giovanni Battista Meneghini and his abuse of his position as her manager, her affair with Aristotle Onassis, the unproven rumors of a love child; all of these things fascinated the public. Equally titillating were the charges that Callas was unreasonable, temperamental, capricious; that she canceled performances at a whim and deliberately sowed rivalry with other singers. Master Class integrates some of the details of her life without getting too far into the soup of what did and did not really happen. For all of the drama, mystery, and sadness around Callas' life, McNally's homage is relaxed, humorous, and open. While there are a few opera in-jokes, they're not off-putting to the rookie. And Rita Moreno captures Callas effortlessly, down to the precise hand gestures that recall photos of Callas in performance and the beautifully modulated voice. (Through July 18 at the Berkeley Rep; 510-647-2949 or BerkeleyRep.org)

Quills -- While the Marquis de Sade gave his name to a whole category of sexual play and a general desire to inflict pain, it's not as well known that he was also a philosopher and politician. In the public eye, the Marquis de Sade was a man whose philosophy was overshadowed by his sexual imagination. In Doug Wright's play, Quills, the marquis himself makes fun of the limited vision of his readers. Reciting a story aloud as a young priest reads it silently in another room, the marquis jeers "Blah blah blah sex blah blah blah." He's fully aware that nobody is reading his Playboy for the articles. He'll give his readers sex, blood, and mayhem. When it comes to mayhem, Quills is swollen with full-frontal male nudity, severed body parts, gleeful immorality, one amazing strap-on, and death everywhere. It seems apt that after a couple of seasons of relatively clean living, the Shotgun Players return to old themes with a vengeance with their current production. Considering their easy familiarity with disturbing themes, the Shotgun Players are the logical choice for this play. This is not, however, the most even production. Director Reid Davis did not assemble the cast he needed. Fortunately, he did get Richard Louis James as his Sade, who would be worth the price of admission alone if the Shotgunners were charging any this season. (Through July 3 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts; 510-841-6500 or ShotgunPlayers.org)

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