Some of David Budbill’s stories aren’t necessarily that unusual or unique, but they all are well told.
Budbill’s new play, “A Song for My Father,” will be staged at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington, Vt., beginning Friday and running through Sept. 5. It’s the story of a man dealing with his father’s declining health, in particular, his mental faculties.
“I thought I was writing a specific story about a father and a son, and I had no idea it was going to have such a universal theme,” said Budbill, a Cleveland native who has called northern Vermont his home for 40 years now.
“I didn’t realize I was creating something that had such universality. Everybody is somewhere on that continuum of dealing with parents growing old and dying.”
‘A Song for My Father’
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 44 Gypsy Lane, Bennington, Vt.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 8 p.m., Aug. 26, through Sept. 5
HOW MUCH: $34-$10
MORE INFO: (802) 447-0564 or www.oldcastletheatre.org
His play was performed as a staged reading last summer at Oldcastle, and in April of this year it opened in Montpelier, Vt.
Reaching the audience
“The reviews were terrific and the audience response was amazing,” he said. “It’s a tough, dark play, but it’s very powerful emotionally, and I kept on getting approached by people after a performance who wanted to tell me something about their own parents and their own experience. One guy shouted to me as he left the theater, ‘I’m going to go home and call my father.’ ”
Budbill says the play isn’t autobiographical, although he did draw on his own experience dealing with parents who are now both deceased.
“I don’t know how to answer that because everything starts out autobiographical, and then by the time you get done it’s not,” he said. “The emotions are there and they’re real, and the events are somewhat autobiographical, but the characters are not.”
Gary Allan Poe plays Frank, the father, and Tim Dugan plays his son, Randy. Also in the cast are Nehassaiu deGannes and Janis Young, who play a variety of women in Frank’s life. Oldcastle founder and Producing Artistic Director Eric Peterson is directing.
“When we did our staged reading in front of a small audience last year, I was just knocked out by it,” Peterson said. “It was incredibly powerful, and people were involved in it and transfixed by it. David has the ability to write blue-collar workers that are articulate and even poetic. To me, he is one of the best writers in the country.”
Budbill, 69, has written seven books of poetry, eight plays, a novel, a collection of short stories, a children’s picture book and the libretto for an opera. His most commercially successful work was probably a play called “Judevine,” which in 1990 won a Bay Area Critics Circle Award when it was first produced in San Francisco.
The play has been produced 67 times in 28 different states, and the Los Angeles Daily News wrote that Budbill writes “with rare honesty, affection and grace, and with language so precise and descriptive you will know immediately you’re soul-deep in something extraordinary.”
Budbill enjoys all kinds of creative writing, especially the differences between the job of a poet and that of a playwright.
“I love going back and forth between the two,” he said.
“That’s the really satisfying part of it. The two lives are so radically different. The poet is so solitary, and while I do pass my work among some friends before I publish it, I’m mostly by myself. When it comes to the theater, it’s different. Everybody is engaged in it, the director, the actors, the stage hands. It’s totally a communal activity.”
He graduated from Muskingum College in Ohio, where he majored in philosophy and minored in art history. He also has a graduate degree in theology from the Union Theological Seminary, but never had any plans to join the ministry.
“For me, grad school was a way to get a deferment from the draft until I got my head on straight,” he remembered.
“Vietnam was in its early stages, but I knew I didn’t want to go. I went through the whole process of being a conscientious objector, but then by the time I got out of school I was 26 and I wasn’t drafted.”
No ordinary job
He knew early in life that a regular 9-to-5 job wasn’t for him.
“I was inspired by one of my high-school teachers, and I really loved teaching for about a year,” he said. “Then, I’m teaching at a private high school on the upper West Side and something happened to me. Suddenly I was only a good teacher for about two weeks. I began to resent having my time eaten up by other people, and I knew I wanted to be my own boss.”
He moved to Vermont, worked a few odd jobs, got married to a fellow artist, painter Lois Eby, and for the most part has continued to write all kinds of material. He’s about to publish another book of poems, and is also working on a one-man play about the first black chemist hired by DuPont.
“David is a poet and a playwright extraordinaire,” said Peterson. “He’s also very willing to hear and see what the actors are saying and listen to suggestions. We’re very lucky to have him here in Vermont.”