By Leigh E. Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat February 13, 1996
Burt Bacharach once said, "A small town is a place where there's no place to go where you shouldn't." This suffocating yet somehow pleasantly comforting atmosphere is reflected in David Budbill's fictional Vermont hamlet known as "Judevine." Based on his book of poems by the same name, Budbill's play is the latest production of the Arizona Repertory Theatre and the UA's professional actor training program, New Faces '96.
"Judevine" is a three-hour tour through the tenuous lives inhabiting this little mountain community, lives riddled with hardship, routine and simpleness. There is Antoine, a foulmouthed laborer who believes he isn't an alcoholic if he imbibes only beer; Tommy, a tortured young vet trained in killing; Grace, a lonely and bitter woman interminably searching for companionship; Jerry, owner of the "corner store" and the glue which holds these lives together; and Edith, the town hen who gossips about them all.
Budbill introduces his audience to thirty or so members of the Judevine community. At first, we are unable to distinguish the individual from the whole. But as their lives unfold, parts of the nebulous whole emerge as unique and recognizable, much like the parts in one's life.
The tour guide from story to story is the poet himself. After living and writing in a similar town in Vermont for twenty years, Budbill uses his poems and a character version of himself to give voice to the small town characters he grew to love. The theater is perhaps the best medium for his poetry, bringing to life the richness of his imagery through voices and bodies. Budbill affirms an undeniable relationship between the people themselves and their environment. As the play opens, the people of Judevine await the coming of dawn and the advent of spring. They change along with the seasons, and both the inhabitants and the world are grounded in ritual and routine - "watching and staying." These everyday lives might seem "half-assed" and the backwards, struggling town "seedy," but Budbill assures us that "such aesthetic judgments depend on point of view."
From the audience, "Judevine" is delightful to watch and listen to, just as Budbill once did, as voyeurs from another age. The play is told with depth and compassion ensemble-style by the new members in the UA professional actor training program, who sing, act and become the sound effects and props. Literally, everything in the town of Judevine is alive. Just like the community which lacks convenience stores and color TVs, there are no fancy special effects, no expensive technical gadgetry. There are no beginnings and no endings. Only people and simplicity.
While the set, costumes and lighting (all designed by UA undergraduates) and Virgina Smith's directing brilliantly match Budbill's talent and mastery of words, the play tends toward the prosodic in its third hour. And "Judevine" loses some of its depth and approaches the quaint. The plain, solid, functionalist and frill-less aspects of everyday life succeed as entertainment for only so long. Although, it is still enlightening. As one character states, "That's another time, and I don't need fantasies. What's here is good enough."
The circuitous pattern underlying "Judevine" demonstrates the sacredness of everyday life, a place of worship in and of itself, and the incredible beauty and harshness which inextricably coexist. The talented cast and lovable characters merit spending an evening and a few dollars, although leaving after the first act might allow for a better appreciation of Budbill's poetry and message. There is no constancy in life, and, often, beauty resides in the plain and the simple. And the town of Judevine "ain't no Vermont picture postcard."