ALIAS GODOT By Brendan Gall, directed by Richard Rose, with Paul Braunstein, David Ferry, Tony Nappo, Alon Nashman and Geoffrey Pounsett. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Previews begin Tuesday (April 22), opens April 30 and runs to June 1. Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday (except April 26) 2:30 pm. $32-$38, Sunday pwyc-$17, previews $19. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
If there’s one thing actor Alon Nashman doesn’t have to wait for, it’s recognition.
Not after a year that includes acclaimed remounts of his solo shows Kafka And Son and The Snow Queen, a Dora nomination for Scorched and recent applause for his creation of an emotionally complex spy in Democracy.
Nashman’s not even waiting for Godot. In fact, he is Godot in Alias Godot, Brendan Gall’s modern take on the Beckett classic, which follows the just-closed Democracy at the Tarragon.
“It was like being on vacation coming in to work on Monday,” he sighs with comic relief, “having only one show in my head.”
Gall has updated Beckett’s story to a day-after-tomorrow New York City police station, where cops Vincent and Edward (versions of the original’s Vladimir and Estragon) have hauled in a dapperly dressed guy for questioning.
“The Beckett play is able to turn the soul upside down, leaving you deeply disturbed,” says the thoughtful Nashman. “You feel an anxiety that’s desperate and bleak, but at the same time the act of sharing that experience with others in the theatre takes you from darkness to a sort of exhilaration.
“Brendan taps into that kind of world. What he’s written isn’t a sequel or even a commentary on it. Instead, he’s created a parallel universe that has a lot to do with today’s world; you feel the tension of a war-frightened society.”
That fearful atmosphere is clear in the other two characters, transformed from Beckett’s bullying Pozzo and his mostly mute attendant, Lucky, into members of a post-9/11 domestic terrorism unit who employ their own browbeating techniques.“They’re the über-police, the susser-outers, given free rein to wiretap, torture or do anything they want in the name of freedom and democracy,” Nashman laughs bitterly.
Both pairs of men, though, are also comic figures inspired, like Beckett’s, by the world of clown and vaudeville. The actor sees the sarcastic, knowing Vincent and the innocent, simple Edward as an essential duo.
“They’re a team of opposites you can trace back to Cain and Abel and on through commedia dell’arte’s Brighella and Arlecchino to The Honeymooners and The Flintstones.”
And what about Nashman’s character, the mysterious Godot, whose motives and actions everyone wants to understand? In the original, Godot, who never appears, is often taken to stand for God.
“In Beckett’s postwar world, there was something offensive in the idea of a supposedly caring and omnipotent God who did nothing for the victims of war,” he says. “Did he even exist? Yet people never lose their vague longing for an all-powerful deity.
“Today,” he continues, “we live in a world where God is omnipresent. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all have their fundamentalists who run their agenda – and would run the world if they could – in God’s name.
“So Brendan’s put God-ot at the centre of his play. The problem, though, is that the other characters don’t really see him or understand him. Instead of waiting for him, as in Beckett, they’re ignoring, pestering or interrogating him.”
By coincidence, the first time I saw Nashman onstage, he was another deity, playing Christ in Alanis King’s If Jesus Met Nanabush.
The actor notes that the idea of God is in part a metaphor, and that he really doesn’t have to incarnate that great, unnameable mystery. At the same time, he feels a personal connection to the play’s material and the questions it tries to explore.
Still, as a performer, how does he tackle Gall’s mysterious Godot?
“I play him as confused and fragile in some ways, for he’s been silenced. Funny thing is, he himself has only a vague sense of his own purpose and is trying, like the human characters, to figure out why he’s there.
“Godot is a trickster and joker, too, someone who wants to be better than he is – a hope he also has for those in the interrogation room.
“Oh,” adds Nashman with a smile, “and he’s French.”