Alone among the cast of When the Rain Stops Falling, Michael Siberry spent his formative years in the two countries, the U.K. and Australia, where the play takes place. His time in the former was barely a jot, which is just as well since his character, Gabriel York, lives in Australia, where Siberry was primarily raised.
Born in Kuala Lumpur (then part of Malaya, now part of Malaysia), most of Siberry's childhood was spent near Hobart, Tasmania, where his father was a physician. "It's an absolutely beautiful place," Siberry said the other evening before curtain, "sort of isolated from the rest of Australia. People there get patronized a bit by those from the mainland part of the country. It's changed a lot since my childhood, but it's still a little back of beyond."
Siberry's career, which has included the Royal Shakespeare Company's landmark production of Nicholas Nickleby as well as The Sound of Music and Spamalot on Broadway, has been conducted far from home, playing mostly Brits and Americans. So did he have any initial difficulties assuming an Australian accent for Gabriel? "Not at all," he replied. "Vocally, Australian is my alter ego, and when I get a little drunk at parties it can get especially thick."
In addition, Australian cadences stay fresh for Siberry because he visits family Down Under as often as possible. (He'll be going to Tasmania as soon as Rain ends its run, just before coming back to New York, his home base, to appear in the new play On the Levee, for LCT3.) Still, the actor admitted that "playing Australian is a fairly untapped part of my career. I've done the odd Australian radio play, and I worked in Adelaide after drama school, before heading for London. But that's about it."
The lack of such parts may change, Siberry mentioned, because, increasingly, the first-rate plays are there. "There's so much good writing coming out of Australia now, so I'm hoping more of it will make it to London and New York, and maybe I'd have more opportunities to play Australians."
As for Gabriel, the Australian he plays in Rain, Siberry said that he views the character pretty much as he did when he first read, and was knocked out by, Andrew Bovell's script. "It's a tribute to the quality of David Cromer's production that Gabriel is still very much the character I envisioned when I first encountered him. Often, your vision of a character can get lost, because a production pours so much, too much sometimes, on top of it."
Before Siberry and I concluded our conversation, I veered from things Australian and asked if he found it challenging to play a character in the year 2039? "Not in this case," he replied. "The play isn't science-fictional in its view of the future. These are recognizable people with recognizable emotions. And, anyway, 2039 isn't as far away as we may think. That's the great thing about the future: it arrives before you know it, whether you're prepared or not."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.