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Vivat! Vivat! Victoria!

Tony Award winner Victoria Clark discusses starring in Lincoln Center's When the Rain Stops Falling and the Collegiate Chorale's star-studded concert version of The Grapes of Wrath. logo
Victoria Clark
(© Susan Shacter)
Victoria Clark has long since proved she can do it all, but this month she's doing it all practically at once. She's starring in Andrew Bovell's compelling multigenerational family drama When the Rain Stops Falling at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theatre; on March 15 and 16, she's participating in SONDHEIM: The Birthday Concert at Avery Fisher Hall (performing a never-before-heard song from the legendary composer); and on March 22, she's playing Ma Joad in the Collegiate Chorale's all-star concert version of Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie's opera The Grapes of Wrath at Carnegie Hall alongside Jane Fonda, Nathan Gunn, Anthony Dean Griffey, and Christine Ebersole. TheaterMania recently spoke with Clark about her busy life.

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.

Victoria Clark and Mary Beth Hurt
in When the Rain Stops Falling
(© T. Charles Erickson)
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.

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