One-man army

James Godwin takes on 12 totally screwed-up characters in Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead

James Godwin performs as drug dealer and party animal Red, while a can of Diet Coke performs as a beer.

James Godwin performs as drug dealer and party animal Red, while a can of Diet Coke performs as a beer.

Photo By Adrienne Rice

I didn’t think there was much left in this world that could shock me, but I was horribly, horribly wrong. There are at least a few things left that, when combined, make me just a tad bit uncomfortable: pigs, Vaseline, crack pipes and Sally Field wearing a strap-on.

This delightful little mental image came courtesy of Eric Bogosian, who penned the one-man show Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead. But the guy who brought the words to life in all their disturbing glory was 25-year-old James Godwin, a local actor who will perform Bogosian’s work at the Riverfront Theatre the next two weekends.

I only got a glimpse of Godwin’s performance at a recent rehearsal, but it was enough to know that this show is going light a fire under the asses of the area theater-going crowd. As director Karen Chandler says, “Don’t bring your children.” Even she still blushes when Godwin performs the “pig scene.”

Pounding Nails delivers everything you could want out of cutting-edge theater—challenging dialogue, great characterization, lightning-fast pacing—all in the cozy cabaret setting of the Riverfront’s underground Bacchus Lounge.

Godwin plays 12 totally screwed-up characters or, as he describes it, 12 different physicalities. There are no costumes—and no breaks, save for an intermission—so Godwin segues from character to character with a change of voice and various nuances of posture. Godwin and Chandler were aiming for “economy of movement” in these segues, and it works; you feel a whole different personality emerge when Godwin simply moves his hands from his hips and clasps them behind his back.

The show feels like it was made with Dennis Miller and Denis Leary in mind; Godwin also mentions the comedy of George Carlin and the late Bill Hicks. The terms “pretty raw” and “darkly comic” also arise in the conversation.

For both Chandler and Godwin, something raw and dark may be just what they need right now. The duo last worked together on the Proscenium Players’ I Hate Hamlet; Chandler’s husband, John Gillie, who co-starred with Godwin in the play, died before the closing night. Both agree that working on Pounding Nails has been somewhat cathartic in working through their grief.

“I couldn’t have [Godwin] go to New York or L.A. and have [that] be his last experience,” Chandler said. “This chapter needed a better ending than it got. I’m hoping this is it.”

For Godwin, this particular chapter started when he was 12.

“I watched too much TV, so my mom said I had to do something,” he says. That something ended up being acting. Chandler taught children’s theater at the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City, and the decade-plus friendship and mentorship began.

Later, Godwin transferred from Wooster High School to Carson High School to continue learning theater from Chandler there. After graduation, he attended San Francisco State, where he got his acting degree. He’s done some work in the Bay Area, including playing Thadius in the West Coast premiere of Terrance McNally’s Corpus Christi, a gay retelling of Christ’s life. He only came back to the Truckee Meadows temporarily to save money, and I Hate Hamlet was his first acting work upon his return.

By November, Godwin will be back in the Bay Area to star in an independent film directed by another of Chandler’s former students. But no matter where he goes, you can bet Chandler will be the first—or maybe second—person to know when he’s working on something new.

“If his mom’s line is busy, I get called next."