Victoria Clark, who plays the elder version of Gabrielle York in When the Rain Stops Falling, is best known to Lincoln Center Theater audiences for her deeply moving, Tony-winning performance as Margaret Johnson, in A Light in the Piazza. So when I sat down with her this week I couldn't resist asking if there were any parallels between the roles.
"Both characters are carrying around quite a bit of guilt and emotional burden," Clark said. "But Margaret is trying to protect her daughter from life, whereas Gabrielle no longer knows how to protect even herself. She's nearing the end of her life, and she knows it."
Does Clark, who has a website called www.victoriaclarkonline.com, think people who associate her primarily with musical-theater roles will be surprised to watch her in a non-musical drama? "I'm not sure. For me there is a lot of continuity in what I do. I'm drawn to emotionally challenging roles, whether they require singing or not." She added: "I'd say that Gabrielle is the hardest thing I've ever done, except that I have a friend who says, 'You say that about everything you do.'"
Clark said that the musicals she tends to do are not only emotionally challenging but un-blockbuster. "I've done Titanic and Urinetown on Broadway, and I don't think I'd call either of those mainstream."
At least one aspect of Rain is pretty new for Clark, however. "I've never been in something where the leaps in time are this broad." She added that the narrative structure of Andrew Bovell's play isn't quite like anything else on her resume. "The story is a puzzle that you have to put together. It isn't just a puzzle for the audience. It's a puzzle for us actors, too."
As Clark digs hard into the Rain role during previews, what sustains her? "I'm in a great group of actors right now, who are all working to figure out things with me." Clark commented that her work as a teacher - she has regular private students and occasionally conducts classes at institutions such as Yale, her alma mater - is also sustaining. "Teaching is very humbling. It's nice to do something where I'm a little more in charge than I am as a performer. I also enjoy mentoring people: that's very satisfying."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.