In The Old Mezzo, Alyssa (Eileen Schuyler) is conducting a Master Class for her students, and it is more about what she has experienced in life than about the music she sings. Only slightly similar to Terrence McNally’s Master Class, which won the 1996 Tony as Best Play, Susan Dworkin’s take is quite different. All of us can find parallels in this story to our own experiences. While no two lives are the same, we all share similar ups and downs. Dworkin likes to write about ordinary lives crashing into history.
In this new play Dworkin gives us insights into how power, politics and money can change the nature of art. In peacetime the subtle process of grant making and government support can influence the direction that creative organizations take, just look at how the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and PBS have become the sadistic straw men that the Republicans and their candidates pretend will solve the nation’s debt problem.
In The Old Mezzo, most of the story takes place during wartime under a repressive government. Regardless of their talent, beloved singers, conductors, teachers and instrumentalists are forbidden to work or perform. Many of them are disappearing, never to be seen again. How you talk to people with government connections can change the course of a career, or even end it. The country all this is happening in is not stated specifically and left to your imagination. But the story itself is based on historic truth, for this has occurred in the old Soviet Union, in Europe under the Nazis; and with Argentina’s Desaparecidos and in today’s Middle East.