PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Victoria Clark

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03 Dec 2008

Victoria Clark
Victoria Clark
Susan Shacter
Actress Victoria Clark, playwright Craig Lucas and director Bartlett Sher are working together again. And, no, it's not a revival of The Light in the Piazza.

The new project is called Prayer for My Enemy, and it's a new straight play from Lucas, who wrote the libretto for the Tony Award-winning musical Piazza. It's now in previews at Playwrights Horizons (opening Dec. 9). Clark plays a woman in upstate New York frustrated by her straightened circumstances; she's isolated and caring for her ailing mother. On Dec. 6, however, Clark will exercise her singing voice in D.C. with a new concert in which she teams with longtime friend and collaborator, conductor Ted Sperling. Clark recently chatted about her latest projects with Playbill.com.

Playbill.com: How did you get involved in this second collaboration with Craig Lucas and Bartlett Sher?
Victoria Clark: Oh, they just called me up and asked me to do it. (Laughs) Last spring, they called. They had done it already at Long Wharf and Intiman. I was not able to do those. I'm a big fan of Craig's work. I'm a Craig Lucas groupie. I follow him around.

Playbill.com: Is there any difference between working with these two guys on a musical and working with them on a play?
VC: There's a little bit more of a hierarchy on a musical, in terms of "This person talks more. This is the ensemble." The play is just six characters. The difference, besides not having music rehearsals, is that we're all together working as a team. However, three-quarters of my work in the play is monologues.

Playbill.com: Do you like that?
VC: I do. It's really challenging. And terrifying, to be honest. But terrifying in a good way, if there is such a thing. It's me and the audience.



Playbill.com: You're mainly known for musicals. You don't do many New York premieres of new plays.
VC: Well, we did do something that never opened to the press. I did a Nicky Silver piece playing [playwright] Nicky Silver's wife at the Vineyard Theatre, about two years ago. It was called The Agony and the Agony. It was one of their productions where they protect the playwright and endlessly preview it.

Victoria Clark in Prayer for My Enemy
photo by Joan Marcus
Playbill.com: Wait. Silver was an actor in his own play?
VC: Yeah. It was fantastic.

Playbill.com: I can't imagine what it must be like to be Nicky Silver's spouse, even in fiction and for only two hours at a time.
VC: It's pretty manic. He carried Polly-O cheese sticks in his pocket. He's constantly on some sort of a diet. He never stops talking. Very entertaining.

Playbill.com: So you're doing a concert at the Terrace Room at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 6. What will you be singing?
VC: This is basically the story of my friendship with Ted Sperling, sort of celebrating our friendship. We started a very close friendship when I was a sophomore and he was a freshman at Yale. He was the first violist in the Yale Symphony Orchestra. We were both singing in the Yale Chapel Choir. We just became best friends almost immediately and palled around everywhere. I dragged him out of the orchestra to start conducting musicals that I was directing. I can take full credit for Ted Sperling's magnificent conducting career. (Laughs) We did How to Succeed… together; Titanic; we both worked on Sunday in the Park, but not at the same time; Les Miz, but not at the same time. Of course, we both worked on Piazza and both won Tonys. So it's kind of this great story of a friendship that survived and actually thrived.

Playbill.com: Are you singing songs from the shows you did together?
VC: Right We do a duet from Merrily We Roll Along, which we did at school as my commencement project. We also did an album together, which was released last year, so we're doing several arrangements from that. It's sort of how we met, just singing around the piano. We're going to tell a lot of stories about Yale, so attention all Yalies in the area.

Playbill.com: Do you hope to take this show around the nation?
VC: Yes. There's already been some interest in our doing it in New York.

Playbill.com: There was an article on you in Time Out New York last week. Did you read it?
VC: I did read it!

Playbill.com: What do you think about this thing that Craig Lucas said: "Vicki is the perfect surprise in this part. [Her character] Dolores has a huge amount of deep-seated rancor, and it's not what you expect of Vicki — which is nice, nice, nice, nice, nice!" Is that how you see yourself. Are you a totally, totally nice person?
VC: (Laugh) Kind of, yeah. I am. This is funny, because I keep thinking of my first serious acting teacher. She always used to say, "You're way too nice. It's not very interesting what you're doing, because you can't find any rage or anger." I said, "I'm not an angry person. I never get mad about anything." She said, "Really? Not anything?" It took me months and months to finally get in touch with my anger. And it was not a pretty thing when I finally did. Everyone had to get out of the way for a while.

Playbill.com: What was the thing inside you that made you angry?
VC: It was like a volcano exploding. I had two older brothers. I got sat on and beaten up for my entire childhood. I sublimated that. I was entirely dismissed. (Laughs) My coping mechanism, which is a very Texas thing, is you laugh and you find your solution with humor. My son can tell you I can definitely lose my temper for sure. But I think in general people see me as a nice person. But I think there's probably a more interesting adjective than "nice."