(Host) Wolcott playwright and poet David Budbill has spent more than 20 years crafting his latest work.
This week, Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater will host the world premiere of his two-act drama, "A Song for My Father."
VPR’s Amy Noyes went Backstage at a recent rehearsal.
(Noyes) A scene between Frank, a working-class father, and Randy, his college-educated son, is reminiscent of playwright David Budbill’s own life.
(Randy) "I grew up on the street, just to get away from home."
(Frank) "No you didn’t. I did."
(Randy) "I’m being you."
(Frank) "Oh, okay. Suit yourself then."
(Randy) "I grew up poor on the streets of Cleveland, with three older sisters, and abusive father – an alcoholic who beat up my mother, disappeared for days, sometimes weeks at a time."
(Frank) "He was a skilled carpenter – a cabinet maker."
(Randy) "I thought I was going to tell the story."
(Frank) "You were going to leave that part out."
(Randy) "How do you know?"
(Noyes) Like the son in his new play, Budbill escaped industrial Cleveland to become a poet among Vermont’s Green Mountains.
"A Song for My Father" is similar to Budbill’s popular play "Judevine" in that both are rooted in his own experience. But, Budbill is quick to point our neither play is really about him.
(Budbill) "These things always begin autobiographically and then they go somewhere else, and by the time it opens this week it won’t be autobiographical. But, that’s where it starts."
(Noyes) "A Song for My Father" takes place at the end of Frank’s life. Robert Nuner plays Frank, the father. The part of the son, Randy, is played by John Alexander. Randy’s education is one of the many conflicts between father and son. Budbill explains that Frank is worried he’ll be separated from Randy by both distance and education.
(Budbill) "There’s one place in Act 1 where Randy says, "I’m the first Wolf in history to graduate from high school, not to mention college or anything else…"
(Randy) "I’m the first person with my name to graduate from high school, not to mention college. The first Wolf in the history of the world to graduate from high school and then college, too. Papa had such mixed emotions about education. He wanted it for me, and resented it, too. He was afraid I’d forget about what he called the working people."
(Noyes) In addition to education and class, the play is also about end-of-life struggles, including dementia. Budbill explains:
(Budbill) "Almost the whole second act takes place in a nursing home and Frank, the father, gets dementia. And there’s some hilarious scenes. A couple of really, ridiculously hilarious scenes between Frank and Randy about … well, what are they about? … that are just fraught with dementia. And that makes for hilarious dialogue. It’s very funny but it’s the kind of laughter that you choke on because it’s not funny at all."
(Noyes) In dealing with such personal and emotional topics, Budbill and director Andrew Doe agreed Lost Nation Theater was the ideal venue. Kathleen Keenan, the theater’s artistic director, describes the space as "intimate."
(Keenan) "The audience surrounds the stage on three sides – it’s kind of this semi-circle – so there’s a really immediate connection between actor and audience, which is perfect for the work of David Budbill."
(Noyes) Budbill agrees. He calls Lost Nation’s thrust stage "tailor-made" for his plays.
For VPR Backstage, I’m Amy Noyes.
(Host ) "A Song for My Father" opens this Thursday evening for a three-week run at Lost Nation Theater, in Montpelier. Lost Nation notes that the production is "Rated R" because of language and themes. You can visit vpr-dot-net for a link to the theater.