What I did to Rewrite the Play, Judevine, for the Opera, A Fleeting Animal.

by David Budbill

When Erik came to me with the idea of turning a part of JUDEVINE into an opera, I, of course, said yes. After we decided on which part of the play we would use for the opera, almost immediately, I came up with the idea of including some black characters. I have an especial interest in Black Americans and their plight (see my latest play DIFFERENT PLANET: go to my website: www.davidbudbill.com/ and plays. It’s the top one.) and this was my golden opportunity to address that interest. As everybody knows, Vermont is one of the whitest states in the United States. Where and how was I going to incorporate some black folks? Simple. Tommy Stames leaves Judevine, Vermont, and goes to Vietnam where he becomes friends with two black guys who subsequently visit Tommy, and Grace, in their trailer down along the river in Judevine. In the scene at the beginning of Act II, “At the Landing”, Doug refers to the two black guys Tommy has visiting him as “darkies” and “jungle-bunnies.” He does this to goad Tommy into a fury over his, Doug’s, racism. It works.

It all seemed so natural to add the two Black guys, since they were, although not of the same race, they were from the same class in the society–for lack of better words, from the working class, the working poor, that strata of society that fights all our wars.

Adding two black characters was easy enough, and while I had the play broken open, I could write new parts for Tommy and Grace also, which I did.

And then there was the matter of the Angel of Depression. Tommy, in his poems for Grace, in the book JUDEVINE, called OH! (a book within a book) mentions the Angel of Depression a number of times. In the book within that book, she is only referred to, but Erik and I saw an opportunity to make her into a character in the Opera and we did. There is a piece of a scene (Act II, Scene 2) between The Angel of Depression and Tommy that deepens Tommy’s struggle with his depression.

There is a picture (in rehearsal clothes) from the original production of Tommy and Grace and the Angle of Depression. If you’d like to see it; it’s at: http://www.davidbudbill.com/262/a-fleeting-animal. Scroll down to the first picture.

Additionally: I expanded the argument between Bobbie and Doug about Grace, ending with Bobbie telling Doug he can find his own way home and Antoine telling Doug that he’ll take him home.

Tommy, Grace, William and James then engage in a discussion about  who their people were and are now and Grace confesses that, although she wants to feel at home with William and James, she just does not.

Act I ends with somebody hitting a bear with their car and the bear in agony writhes around in the ditch. Tommy sees this and immediately has a flash-back to shooting his friend who is in agony in Vietnam. Act I ends with Tommy saying/singing “Don’t talk to me!”

Act II begins with the “At the Landing, a scene in which Doug goes after Tommy and his black friends. (see the first paragraph of this essay.)

This is followed by a Dream Sequence in which Grace, Tommy and the Angel of Depression sing to each other about Tommy’s up coming death.

Then some comic relief, sorely needed by now. We see the town playing softball and Grace watching Tommy. This scene also gave me lots of room to create plenty of double entendres.

Scene 4, Act II, is a Pastoral Interlude in which Grace, Tommy, William and James all sing to each other about how beautiful their lives are or could be.

Scene 5, Act II, is the scene this entire opera has been building toward: Tommy’s Death.

Scene 6: Act II: Grace, now alone, warns the people of Judevine that if they don’t wake up and start dealing with the veterans of Vietnam and their survivors that they will have hell to pay.

Then a final chorus, in which Grace, having lost her mind, talks about her new boy-friend in New York, then meets William and James and doesn’t recognize them.

The Angel of Depression, William and James lead Grace off. The Angel of Depression has the last lines. The opera is done.

Join us!

Make a tax-deductible contribution through the Monteverdi Music School, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, for this opera. Contributions may be directed to:

Monteverdi Music School, P.O. Box 1062 Montpelier, VT 05601-1062

Please put A Fleeting Animal in your check’s memo.

Or if you’d prefer to make a secure contribution online, go to:


Please put A Fleeting Animal in the “purpose” field.


Given the recent activities in Fergurson, Missouri, this play is particularly relevant.

The play is DIFFERENT PLANET: The Life and Times of Edward T. Jordan:  Chemist, Educator, Militant Activist, Irritant, Dreamer, Idealist, Disagreeable Person.

There are two characters in this play: the actor, who will play Edward T. Jordan, and the musician. Edward T. Jordan, talks about what it was like to be the first, Black research chemist ever hired by DuPont, why he thinks “Hoop Dreams” is a nightmare, what it was like to be educated, poor and black in America in the 1920s and 1930s, on what’s wrong with black higher education and how Edward Jordan’s insistence on high educational standards got him fired from Dunbar University, on the color of black skin, what it was like to be a Black man in the army in World War II, Black music, and finally, Edward talks about the cancer that killed him.

Running time: probably about an hour and a half, divided into two, more or less, equal parts with an intermission, or as a one act. Cast: one Black man. An individual improvising musician who reacts musically to what Edward is saying. Simple or no set. Minimal props.

A truncated version of DIFFERENT PLANET was first performed as a staged-reading at the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency in Greensboro, VT, on August 22, 2014

David Budbill is a poet and a playwright. For more about his works go to: http://www.davidbudbill.com/

Following here is a synopsis of the play,  a review of the staged reading and short biography of the playwright.




a new play by David Budbill

There are two characters in this play: the actor, who plays Edward T. Jordan, and the musician/musicians.

E.T.J. talks about what it was like to be a research chemist for DuPont, why he thinks “Hoop Dreams” is a nightmare, what it was like to be educated, poor and black in America in the 1920s and 1930s, on his parent’s influence, on what’s wrong with black higher education, and how Edward Jordan’s insisting on high educational standards got him fired from Dunbar University, on the color of black skin, on what it was like to be a Black man in the army in World War II, on Black music, and finally, Edward T. Jordan talks about the cancer that killed him.

Running time: probably about an hour and a half, divided into two, more or less, equal parts with an intermission.

Cast: two people: one Black man. An individual improvising musician, a bassist or a shakuhachi player. The musician reacts musically to what Edward is saying. The actor and the musician should react to each other.

Set and Props: Simple or no set. Minimal props

A REVIEW OF DIFFERENT PLANET from Barre Times Argus/Rutland Herald, August 24,2014


Jim Lowe / Staff Photo

Bassist William Parker and Edgar Davis perform David Budbill’s new play, “Different Planet,” in Greensboro.

If you think a young African-American can be angry about America’s ongoing racial injustice, try a well-educated successful black college professor. “Different Planet,” Wolcott poet and playwright David Budbill’s newest play, confronts just that issue with a powerful authenticity: Are black and white Americans on different planets? 

Somewhat truncated, Budbill’s latest effort was presented in a deeply moving staged reading by actor Edgar Davis and bassist William Parker on Thursday under a tent on the Greensboro Green, part of the first Greensboro Writers’ Forum. “The Life and Times of Edward T. Jordan: Chemist, Educator, Militant Activist, Irritant, Idealist, Disagreeable Person,” the play’s subtitle, pretty much tells it all, but it misses Jordan’s foremost quality: integrity. Jordan is a composite character, based on an actual acquaintance of Budbill’s in the Northeast Kingdom, but fleshed out with bits and pieces from the playwright’s experience. Like the characters in Budbill’s most famous play, “Judevine,” the feel is authentic. Jordan grew up poor in Philadelphia, but with the influence of educated relatives, he worked toward and earned a college education. His understanding of his place in the world was cemented by his World War II army experience. Although a science expert, he found himself segregated, looked down upon and otherwise discriminated against. Jordan’s first major job was as a chemist for DuPont, where he excelled. But he found himself a lone black man in a white world and after a dozen years, left to join academia. 

He became the only black professor at the fictitious Dunbar University, an institution of higher learning aimed at the African-American population. Again Jordan was fighting an uphill battle, at least as far as he was concerned. He had learned throughout his life that in order to be accepted in America, an African-American had to be better than his white counterpart. His demanding — realistic, he would say — approach led to troubles and his eventual firing by the school. Budbill’s Jordan is a bit on the self-centered side. Indeed, he doesn’t mention having a wife until near death. And he isn’t always compassionate.
His statement, “I am harsh, I am not nice, I am merciless,” is almost true. But he applies his extreme standards to himself before anyone else. Budbill’s tale takes Jordan through his fight with cancer. And even in his death Jordan had to have it his way. Finally, he sums it up, “I’ve been a lucky guy.” 

Davis, a veteran professional actor living in Hardwick, became Edward T. Jordan. He effectively reflected the man’s anger as well as his pride with authority and authenticity. “Different Planet” would be a monologue without its musical score provided by Parker, a renowned New York jazz bassist and frequent Budbill collaborator. Parker provided everything from atmospheric music to accents, to conversation through his bass and other instruments. 

According to Parker, he begins with a set score upon which he improvises. The music is essentially a character in the play. Davis and Parker collaborated in truly potent storytelling. According to Budbill, this performance of “Different Planet” was cut from the original 90 minutes to about an hour for this occasion. It’s typical Budbill storytelling in that the characters, full of defects, are convincing, compelling and sympathetic. Perhaps Budbill got carried away with the jazz references, but they were fun. Budbill is one of Vermont’s best and best-known poets. Often his plays emanate from his poetry, as in the case of “Judevine.” But “Different Planet” began with interviews with a neighbor. “Different Planet” is a compelling piece of theater combining an understanding of America’s deep racism and Budbill’s deep passion for humanity. Hopefully, it will be presented in its entirety in the near future. Presented by Greensboro Arts Alliance.
For information about the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency, call 802-533-7487, or go online towww.greensboroartsalliance.com. For information about David Budbill, go online towww.davidbudbill.com.

Very Short Bio, September 2014 for David Budbill

Exterminating Angel Press published David’s latest book of poems, Park Songs: a Poem/Play, in September 2012.

Copper Canyon Press now has David’s latest book of poems: Tumbling Toward the End.

His latest play, Different Planet, received it’s first staged reading at the Greensboro Art Alliance in Greensboro, VT, on August 22, 2014

His next to latest play, A Song for My Father, received its third production at The Western Stage in Salinas, CA, in November of 2013.

Garrison Keillor reads frequently from David’s poems on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac.

He lives in the southwest corner of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.