Actor Alan Mandell has portrayed Shakespeare’s Shylock, Prospero and Lear, and performed everywhere from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre to Broadway to the silver screen. One of his most notable recent roles was Rabbi Marshak in the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man.” Mandell is currently playing Estragon in “Waiting for Godot” at LA’s Mark Taper Forum. He talked to The Arty Semite about Judaism, existentialism, and working with Samuel Beckett.
Ed Rampell: How long have you been performing Beckett’s plays?
Alan Mandell: I first became aware of his work in 1957, when we were doing “Waiting for Godot” at the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop. We received a call from San Quentin telling us they’d be interested in having a play done at the prison. There were 1,500 inmates; it was a huge success. The San Quentin News review reached Beckett, who was very impressed by the level of intelligence and comprehension of the reviewer. The inmates, of course, understood what waiting was about. For them, Pozzo was the warden; they were Gogo [Estragon] and Didi [Vladimir]; Lucky was the man on death row.
After [actor] Rick Cluchey was paroled he formed the Barbed Wire Theatre. Beckett asked him to be his assistant for a Berlin production of “Endgame” [in 1967] and they asked me to play Nagg. I also played Lucky, with Beckett directing, in London, and I worked on the last major piece he wrote, “Stirrings Still.” I was very fortunate to be able to work with him.
What was Beckett like?