Category: Archive

On the Aisle: Farm girl

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The show, with a libretto by playwright Craig Lucas, with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, is enjoying an extended run at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, where it is expected to remain at least until the beginning of next year.
Its source, Elizabeth Spencer’s romantic novella, was published in 1960, after having appeared in full in the New Yorker magazine the previous year.
In 1962, the book became a film, with Olivia de Havilland and Yvette Mimieux as the mother and daughter being played at the Beaumont by Victoria Clark and O’Hara.
The unpretentious, blonde soprano, who was raised on a farm not far from Tulsa, Okla., remembers the early days of the show’s journey to New York, starting with a workshop at Sundance, and then engagements in Seattle and Chicago.
O’Hara has been with the show since the very beginning, but not always as Clara. “I was originally cast as Franca Naccarelli, the sister-in-law of Fabrizio, the boy Clara loves, but with the start of rehearsals for the New York opening, I changed roles,” she said.
It was quite a change, from the dark, edgy Franca, perpetually angry about her straying husband, Giuseppe, to the innocent, impulsive, and relentlessly childlike Clara, a character whose mood swings and perpetually unguarded behavior stems from an incident which had taken place at her 10th birthday party, when the pony she’d been given kicked her in the head.
She is, then, a beautiful girl who, at age 26, functions with the emotional and intellectual equipment of a pre-teen.
The candid and open O’Hara admits that she, like others, including many readers of the book, had a struggle coming to grips with the medical and psychological realities of Clara’s situation.
“Finding the handicap, was very hard,” she said. “It’s been a huge process for me. We went through periods where it was almost a physical handicap. You could see it in her physical movements, but we took some of that away. For a while, we put some of her problems in her hands, the way they moved. It was almost as though we wee dealing with a form of autism. But it’s a fictitious ailment, a fictional situation.”
O’Hara studied developmental impairment, and came to a definite conclusion where he character is concerned. “Everything that she is is made up,” she said. “In my studies, I never found a report of anyone with brain trauma that is supposed to be life-changing that ends up acting like, looking like, or ends up being capable of the things that Clara is supposed to be capable of.”
In other words, it all comes back to Spencer’s novella. “A 26-year-old woman with the mental capacities of a 10-year-old isn’t how we’re playing it,” she added. “It’s not how I feel. I feel that she’s a woman who, at the age of 10, had an accident and has grown abnormally, emotionally and mentally. Spencer doesn’t say Clara stopped at 10. What I think is that she has some emotions that are like those of a child. She has some other emotions which are very much like those of an 18-year-old, and maybe some that are like those of a healthy 26-year-old at times. I also think that she’s been held back in her growth. I think she hasn’t been given the opportunity to grow because her upbringing has been so sheltered since the accident. You see just within the time of meeting a new person, she changes.”
The “new person” to whom O’Hara refers is, of course, Fabrizio Naccarelli, the 19-year-old Florentine with whom she falls in love, virtually at first sight.
“She starts to ask questions that she’s never asked before. ‘Something’s wrong with me. I feel different. What’s wrong? Why don’t I know that?’ I think that she’s never had to ask questions, because everything has been kept from her by the mother who is trying to protect her,” O’Hara said.
That mother, Margaret Johnson, as played by Victoria Clark, who won a Tony Award for her work in the show, is a fairly different woman from the one Spencer conceived from her book, more na

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese