Theater Review: The Nativity discovered in Judevine
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | December 01,2012
Jim Lowe / Staff Photo
Gil (Morgan Irons) and Arnie (Robert Nuner) fight over their “newborn” chain saw in the Lost Nation Theater production of David Budbill’s “Two for Christmas.”
Imagine the Nativity in Judevine, Vt. It’s really not so farfetched — save for the climate.
Lost Nation Theater opened a charming and entertaining production of David Budbill’s “Two for Christmas” Thursday at City Hall Arts Center. After two performances today, the production moves to Hardwick’s Hazen Union School for three performances Dec. 7-8, then on to Burlington’s FlynnSpace Dec. 13-15 for four performances.
“Two for Christmas,” premiered by Lost Nation Theater in 1996, comprises two plays. The first is the 15th-century “The Second Shepherds’ Play” told in Budbill’s contemporary adaptation. Much more fun, though, is “A Pulp Cutter’s Nativity,” the same story moved to Judevine, with characters from Budbill’s popular play and poems of the same name.
Judevine’s beloved French Canadian logger Antoine is back, along with the miserable Doug and the troubled Vietnam vet Tommy. When someone steals Tommy’s chain saw, the three loggers set out to get it back — and make the thief, Arnie, pay in the bargain.
Before it’s over, the three are visited by the most unexpected angel who entreats them to pay homage to the just-born Messiah — in a most unexpected place. It’s very funny, but also quite touching in its basic Christian message.
Directed by veteran pro Andrew Doe, who also directed the premiere, the Lost Nation production benefited from an excellent cast at Thursday’s preview performance. Ben Ash was Antoine, a role he has played in the character’s various incarnations. But this was easily his most natural and entertaining performance to date. His presence lit up the stage.
Mark Roberts was scarily convincing as the bigoted Doug who comes around in the end — sort of. And Andrew Butterfield, in his Lost Nation debut, gave Tommy the same kind of authentic intensity.
Robert Nuner was a riot as the ne’er-do-well Arnie, matched all the way by Morgan Irons’ comic performance as his caustic dipsomaniac wife, Gil. Ashley Nease, in her Lost Nation debut, felt refreshingly natural as the angel character. (To say more would give too much away.)
Original music by Susannah Blachly, on fiddle and viola and in song, added to the rustic New England flavor.
In “The Second Shepherds’ Play,” the same characters — and actors — do pretty much the same thing, but it’s some 500 years earlier and in Ye Olde England. Budbill’s adaptation is charming and full of humor. But it’s in Judevine that the story truly comes to life.
The physical production, with set and lighting by Casey Covey and costumes by Cora Fauser, was imaginative and attractive, but limited due to touring — and to the many functions City Hall Arts Center is being used for this month.
Lost Nation’s “Two for Christmas” is a great way to celebrate a real Vermont Christmas.