Samuell Beckett’s 1953 tragicomedy Waiting for Godot is one of those avant-garde plays that everyone’s heard of but most people haven’t actually seen. It has a reputation for being remote, intellectual, and difficult to understand, but Fort Worth playwright-actor-director Rob Bosquez didn’t see any of any of those qualities when he first read the script in high school and years later, in 1999, co-starred in a production of the play at Hip Pocket Theatre.
“I felt like I ‘got it,’ even if I wasn’t exactly sure what I got,” said a laughing Bosquez, who is directing Drag Strip Courage’s current production of Beckett’s oddball classic at Arts Fifth Avenue. “You have an immediate reaction to his words, of course, but then certain things about it –– a scene or a line of dialogue –– will click with you later, and you’re, like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ The ghost of the play gets inside you and haunts you. Beckett inspired me to write plays the way I wanted to and not worry so much about whether people get it.”
Bosquez is a rarity in North Texas –– a playwright whose original pieces have been regularly produced on area stages over the years. As a staff teaching artist who works with the youth theater program at Artes de la Rosa, he’s penned scripts with kids and teens on everything from the HIV virus to Bigfoot. (He also co-founded and helps oversee children’s theater projects at Stage West.) Five of his plays for adult audiences were given full productions by the now-defunct Butterfly Connection back in the 2000s. As an actor, Bosquez has performed plum roles in plays by Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet. But when Drag Strip Courage founder Seth Johnston asked him to helm Waiting for Godot, Bosquez hadn’t directed a script with grownup actors for grownup audiences in five or six years, so he jumped at the chance.
Godot features four bedraggled, hobo-like characters wandering aimlessly through a bleak landscape unsure of their present purpose or their future destination. Because of the play’s simple, spare design as well as its thematic blank slate, interpreters across the decades have tried to hang all kinds of symbolic meanings on its stark framework. (One of the most popular readings –– that the show concerns the absence of God in the modern era –– was criticized by Beckett himself, who insisted religion was far from his mind when he wrote the play.) Bosquez admits he was tempted to impose certain themes and motifs when he started working on the Drag Strip Courage version.
“At the beginning, since the show features hats and boots, we thought, ‘Let’s make the characters Texans, like cowboy clowns,’ ” he said. “And then I’d always considered one [of the characters] to be an angel with clipped wings and another one to be undead like Nosferatu. In the end, though, I didn’t want to color the play too much with my own interpretations. We decided to perform it as it was written.”
But even a straightforward approach offers multiple opportunities for different tones and moods –– Godot can be as bleak and despairing or as gentle and goofy as you want it to be. Watching the audience reaction at last weekend’s opening performances, Bosquez believes his actors have settled into a nice middle groove, eliciting lots of laughter and some tearful silences. The seasoned cast didn’t need a whole lot of guidance during rehearsals –– the only specific bit of direction Bosquez remembers offering is that Vladimir and Estragon, the lead hobos, “are more like Laurel and Hardy than Abbott and Costello.”(So much for raw psychological realism.)
Bosquez is set to perform in two more upcoming Drag Strip Courage productions –– William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead in October and The Reindeer Monologues in December –– and will continue, of course, working with young actors and playwrights at Artes de la Rosa and Stage West. Indeed, he didn’t realize how much creating theater with and for young people affected his approach to decidedly adult fare like Waiting for Godot until after the show opened.
“A lot of the playfulness [in this production of Godot] comes from my experiences in youth theater,” he said. “The play is sort of like a weird little fairy tale the way they used to write them. I believe in things that adults aren’t supposed to believe in, like Bigfoot. Someone told me they noticed a hopefulness [in the show], which is cool. I think that’s because I’ve been working with just kids for the last five or six years.”
Waiting for Godot
Thru July 14 at Arts Fifth Avenue, 1628 5th Ave, FW.