Thursday, April 23, 2009

Big Man Tries Beckett

IN his dressing room last week
John Goodman stood up, emitted a long, blaring foghorn blast and then announced in a loudspeaker voice, “Now docking. ...” He was describing his Act I entrance as Pozzo, his first theatrical role in four years, in the Roundabout Theater Company production of “Waiting for Godot,” which opens April 30 at Studio 54.

Mr. Goodman is a big man — he’s 6 foot 3, and his weight these days hovers around 300 pounds — and in his Pozzo getup he seems even bigger. He wears a derby, boots and a voluminous riding suit with jodhpurs, and when he comes onstage, at the end of a long rope attached to his hapless slave, Lucky (played by John Glover), he does seem a bit like an ocean liner. Vladimir and Estragon (played by Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane) look astonished, and rightly so.

Pozzo is the least sympathetic and in some ways the trickiest character in “Godot.” He cruelly mistreats Lucky, and yet he is as lost and vulnerable as all the others. He is “an insecure gasbag who needs to be listened to and have things done for him,” as Mr. Goodman put it. “He’s like the Macy’s blimp no one wants to look at.” Pozzo spouts a lot of fustian and hot air, and Mr. Goodman said he was still trying to figure out the right voice for it. His Pozzo speaks in a deep, Goodmanesque rumble but with a lordly British accent.

“It’s just a voice I heard in my head,” Mr. Goodman explained, “along with all the other voices there — the barking dogs and the rest. I need to make it more distinctly American, sort of like Bill Buckley. I’m trying to make it more a patrician Yankee voice, but I worry that’s not going to sell. It’s going to sound like a bad English accent. So it’s something I’m still searching for.”