THEATERMANIA: With everything on your plate, why make time to do one night of The Grapes of Wrath?
VICTORIA CLARK: I've been working on this piece in some way for about a year and a half. Ricky asked me personally to sing Ma Joad and I was just flattered to be part of this. This cast should be great fun to work with, since it has both opera singers and theater people. I did The Firebrand of Florence last year with Nathan Gunn, and we thought we have to find something else to do together -- he's so amazing. Plus, I've never sung in Carnegie Hall -- I did Opening Doors downstairs at Zankel Hall -- and I just hope I don't pass out when I hit the stage.
TM: Ma Joad is not the most glamorous way to make your Carnegie Hall debut, is it?
VC: I'm not sure what they're putting me in; hopefully, it's not a burlap bag. I figure Jane Fonda (who is narrating the piece) is going to be in sequins, and I'll be in sackcloth and ashes. Maybe she'll be willing to switch with me.
TM: Were you really familiar with the novel before working on the opera?
VC: I actually never read it until recently. I'm from Dallas, and as I tell people, if you grow up in the Dust Bowl, you just don't have to study it.
TM: When the Rain Stops Falling is a complicated play; for example, you play the older version of your character, while another actress plays your younger self. Were you able to follow everything when you first read the script?
VC: Actually, I think it might be easier to watch it than read it. I try not to print scripts if I'm auditioning -- it's a waste of paper -- so with this one, I kept going back and forth, back and forth on the computer and then scrolling to the top of the first page, where they include the family tree, like a million times.
TM: How did you feel by the time you finished the script?
VC: By the last few pages, I was a total wreck and I knew I wanted to do the play. I love what it says about redemption, and how it makes you think about where you are with your own relationship with your family. It's such a meaningful project to be involved in.
TM: Your character, Gabrielle, suffers from some sort of mental deterioration, even though she's only in early middle-age. What kind of research did you do?
VC: I really didn't want to play a generic crazy person or just some vague theatrical craziness. And I knew Gabrielle was too young to have Alzheimer's, since that rarely hits before the late 50s. Finally, I read about Lewy-Bodies disease, which functions a lot like Alzheimer's; it's the second most prevalent dementia, but most people haven't heard of it. And the symptoms were like Gabrielle's; sharp changes in behavior from minute to minute, anger that comes out of nowhere. It really helped me to know this condition exists.
TM: Was the rehearsal process very intense?
VC: We met every day at noon and worked for five hours. This is a very rugged group of people -- and they are all so talented and so devoted to this play. It helped that our director, David Cromer, is completely hilarious. You could put him in a sitcom and you wouldn't need a script. And he needed to keep us laughing, because it's such a heavy play. But I think it helps that we're a very grounded group of people who are playing people who have lost their footing in life.
TM: What did your son Thomas think about the play?
VC: He was there opening night; and my friend who sat with him said he kept shaking his head and saying wow. 15-year-olds can be harsh, so that's really a compliment. In the play, my son Gabriel stops all communication with me at 17, because he can't understand her pain, which is something every teenager should think about. I think the play really gives perspective on how parents can feel. I think every teenager in New York should be made to see this play. Actually, I think everyone in the world should come see this play. I'm just so proud to be part of it.