Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 19, 1998

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Sylvia Hormann-Alper plays diva
Maria Callas in "Master Class."

A matter of maturity

It takes experience
to play Maria Callas on stage

By John Berger


A year in the life of a Hollywood leading man must count as seven in the life of a leading lady. Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Arnold Schwarzenegger keep on starring as a romantic leads opposite ever-younger female co-stars while actresses of similar vintage are relegated to playing aunts or grandmothers.

Age is nothing but a number, and there's no reason couples should be paired off according to age, but imagine the reaction if Mia Farrow had been cast opposite Leonardo DeCaprio in "Titanic." Oh well.

Theater is a different story, and theater in Honolulu is no exception. Sylvia Hormann-Alper opens tomorrow as Maria Callas in Diamond Head Theatre's production of "Master Class." The Tony Award-winning play by Terrence McNally was inspired by a class Callas conducted at Julliard when she was 47. Most of the actresses who have portrayed Callas are older than that. Hormann-Alper includes herself in that group.

"Women can look great on stage for longer than they can on a huge 40-foot screen, but it (also) takes time to hone your skills," she says, tactfully appraising different viewpoints on age, talent and marketability. The definition of "great" is another question. Many cultures honor and respect age; Americans seem to fear any sign of it. American pop culture reflects that fear.

And yet, good acting is more than reciting lines.

"The perspective that age gives us helps in bringing a greater depth to a character. There are roles that you need a certain amount of life experience to do. Also, our tools perhaps are sharpened (with time) so we're more expert at using what we've got -- our body, our face and our voice -- in developing many more ways of expressing things."

Hormann-Alper notes that the greatest Juliets were in their late 20s or early 30s because it takes that long to acquire the experience to bring out the nuances Shakespeare wrote into the character of his teen-age heroine.

The Honolulu community theater is enriched by a number of actresses with extensive "life experience." Hormann-Alper says they enjoy getting together.

"There's a group of us 'old actresses' who meet for lunch maybe every three months. Cecilia Fordham, Linda Ryan, Joyce Maltby, Jo Pruden, Vanita Smith from Army Community Theatre and Jane Campbell from Honolulu Theatre for Youth. We spend a Saturday afternoon together and catch up on what's going on around town."

The "old actresses" group could be dubbed "The Po'okela Club." They've received countless "Pokies" through the years for their work as performers and directors. This is another busy year for them. Ryan is in the middle of a triumphant run as Mrs. Johnstone in Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Blood Brothers." Maltby recently completed a critically acclaimed original one-woman show, "Ain't I a Woman," at Hawaii Pacific University.

Tomorrow night belongs to Hormann-Alper.

"For two hours it's very intense. There are no second takes. It requires total concentration, and you've got to be there in it every second of the time. If you're making a movie. there are chances to do something over. On stage it's just once."


Master Class

° Dates: Tomorrow- April 5
° Times: 8 p.m. Thursdays- Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays
° Place: Diamond Head Theatre
° Tickets: $10-$40
° Call: 734-0274

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