When Janis Stevens strides on stage as Maria Callas, wearing designer sunglasses, a stylish pantsuit, and a colorful scarf, she is instantly the center of attention, and quick to give advice.
"You expect people to remember you, if you don't have a look? Bom bom bom! I was never arrogant that way. I knew I needed a look, and… I got one. (Laughter)."
This witty, brittle approach changes as the play proceeds. Gradually, the diva opens up and shares her inner thoughts. She talks about the nasty conflicts she's endured, and the bridges that she's burned in order to claw her way to the top. And when Stevens releases all that energy, anguish, defiance and pain, the effect is breathtaking.
"My sister was another slim pretty blonde, they're not up here, either one of them. I'm up here. The fat, ugly greasy one, with the thick glasses and bad skin is up here. And she's dress by Piero Tossi, and she's wearing so many diamonds that she can scarcely move her arms, and she is the absolute center of the university right now. I know, they're all out there in the dark - my enemies . . . my mother, my sister, the other singers smiling, waiting for me to fail, the daredevil stuff is coming out, the hullabaloo. I'm NOT afraid. I welcome it! "
When it comes to portraying highly intelligent, resourceful women of a certain age, who are both utterly determined and not inclined to compromise, Stevens is supreme. When she hits full stride, she can unleash speeches filled with righteous, scorching fury. Yet at the same time, you sense admirable qualities, and even a touch of vulnerability. It's quite an accomplishment.
Stevens' performance is so intense it sent shivers down my spine. People who are lucky enough to see it will be talking about it for years to come.
"Master Class "plays through April 17th at Capital Stage on board the Delta King riverboat in Old Sacramento.