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James Cromwell Plays the Waiting Game

The veteran actor discusses the Mark Taper Forum's production of Waiting for Godot and the Oscar-winning film The Artist. logo
James Cromwell
(© Joshua Pickering)
Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot is famously known as the play in which nothing happens. But this play about "nothing" instigates endless arguments over its themes, and Los Angeles audiences now have another chance to interpret the classic existential drama via a new production at the Mark Taper Forum starring Alan Mandell, Barry McGovern, Hugo Armstrong, and Academy Award nominee James Cromwell.

TheaterMania recently spoke to Cromwell about returning to the stage after a 10-year absence, his role as Pozzo in this production, and his feelings about being in this year's Oscar-winning film,The Artist.

THEATERMANIA: It's been almost 10 years since you've done a play. So, how do you feel about returning to the stage?
JAMES CROMWELL: It is like riding a bicycle. I raced bicycles so the problem with me riding a bicycle is that I fell and broke a lot of bones. So the bicycle is not just a lot of fun, but I see it as a potentially crushed pelvis. I see the theater the same way. I love the theater as I love bicycling. I would love to ride perfectly as I would love to act perfectly. But I have to recognize my limitations. So I always face the same thing when I push off -- what will happen next?

TM: You've done a production of Godot and played Pozzo before. What was that experience like?
JC: It's nice to revisit it and see if I can do it any better than I did it when I was 26. I played it down South during the civil rights movement in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia as a part of the Free Southern Theater, which was an integrated company that toured under the auspices of the student non-violent committee, which registered black voters. We toured under some peril.

TM: What made you want to revisit this role at this point in your career?
JC: I was working with the play's director, Michael Arabian, on a production of King Lear, which I plan to do later this year. And he asked me to do Pozzo. And I thought "What a great way to get back on the stage and do a wonderful part and get my chops back before I climb Everest."

TM: How do you find something fresh to play in a classic like Godot?
JC: In most productions of the play, certainly all of the ones I've seen, there are no politics. It's a purely existential, metaphysical play. The play was written in the late 40s and during World War II, and Beckett had to leave Paris and go to the South of France where there were vagabonds and everything was bombed by the allies. They were waiting for Americans to show up. The politics are there to be played. I think that's a new way of looking at it and that's what I try to bring to it.

TM: Do you see any similarity between Godot and The Artist?
JC: My feeling is what we're working for in this production is to create an immediate felt experience. That's also what The Artist is about. The film is a rather simple story told without sound so the audience has to use their imagination to create a narrative about what is happening. It's like a piece of jazz -- you don't ask to understand it, you experience it. That's what this play does. People ask "What does that mean?" You don't have to understand it. Understanding is the booby prize.

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