Victoria Clark has shed her wings.
The Broadway actress, whose stage credits include The Snow Geese and Sister Act, as well as a Tony-winning performance in The Light in the Piazza, was most recently seen as the Fairy Godmother in the Main Stem debut of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. While Clark is known for her maternal roles, her latest film, the independent "Archaeology of a Woman," shows off a different side of her.
"Oh my gosh, [it was] so welcome," Clark said of taking on the role of Kate, a city-based chef who is reluctant to leave her life of late-night business meetings filled with red wine to care for her mother, Margaret, who begins to suffer from dementia at the beginning of the film. "I play a lot of caretakers. Kate is also a caretaker with her mom, but it's very reluctant. And [her director] Sharon was very adamant about that."
Written and directed by Sharon Greytak, "Archaeology of a Woman," which was released Sept. 12 at Village East Cinema, pairs Clark with Sally Kirkland as it chronicles Margaret's rapid descent into dementia while unveiling a dark secret from her past. Watching her mother's rapid decline, Kate copes with the stress by engaging in a romantic encounter with a young police officer played by Karl Geary. "That was kind of fun," Clark said, laughing, recalling the scene of the two of them sneaking into a restroom on a moving train. Commenting on the novelty of a film portraying a woman out of her 20s having a sex life, Clark said, "That's all Sharon. She probably would have been happier for me to show a little bit more. It was fun for me." Clark described Kate's journey from sexy urban professional to reluctant caregiver, as well as her discomfort with her mother's illness, as a universal one. She also praised the film's portrayal of the strained relationship between the two women, saying, "You never see a real relationship like that – a mother and daughter who are really trying to figure out who the other person is and struggling in that. Sometimes it always gets cleaned up or it gets overly dramatic... Kate and Margaret are really not that close. I think that Kate is so stressed out, and she's in the middle of so much that this is just bad timing. [It's] one of those classic examples of everything always happens at once.
"These are the things that I think women obsess over more than men," she continued. "What is my role as caretaker? What is my role as the daughter and what does it mean to be a good daughter? What does it mean to be a good child? I think women really struggle with that. Wanting to be good. Wanting to be the good girl. Wanting to be the good daughter and yet not really knowing how to pull that off."
Much of the film is portrayed through Margaret's point of view, leaving it open to the audience for interpretation, a technique that Clark said she enjoyed greatly. "Kate doesn't understand [what was happening] either. I never had to know. The way Sharon shot, she didn't give us a lot of answers. That was great for me: That was Kate."
Despite saying her character "probably goes a little bit overboard" in caring for her mother, Clark said she never passed judgment on Kate. "I never judge the people that I play," she said. "Whenever I'm acting, I try to really understand them. Whatever anybody does, they're doing the best they can in any given moment. I can't judge them. It's great to play people that would do things that you would never do. That's why acting's fun!"
While Clark, a self-described "cut-up," said she relished the opportunity to play the leading role in a drama like "Archaeology of a Woman," she admitted she would like to perform in more comedies. High on her list of coveted roles are Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, the title part in Mame and works by Noel Coward, Craig Lucas, Christopher Durang and Douglas Carter Beane.
Clark will take on a new role when she directs the musical The Light in the Piazza at Pace University. She won the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in 2005 when she starred in the Adam Guettel-Craig Lucas musical. As the artist-in-residence for Musical Theatre for the Pace School of Performing Arts, her production will be performed completely by undergraduates.
Clark has seen other actors perform the role of Margaret Johnson, an experience she described as "educational." She admitted that directing the production will also be "emotional, because I know that woman so well. It's very enjoyable to actually watch people dig in and watch these actors explore. I think it will be a lot of fun to direct it. "I have to be careful with them," Clark said of the students. "Let them find their own way into the piece. I'm not the least bit interested in re-creating anything we've done before with this."
"Archaeology of a Woman" plays Village East Cinema (189 2nd Ave. at 12th St.) For tickets and information, visit: villageeastcinema.com.