CLEARWATER — Playwright Dick Budin is a savant of silly, a bard of bad taste, a connoisseur of camp.
How else to explain his record of success at International CringeFest, a festival of "bad" theater and film held annually in New York City?
For the second time in three years, one of Budin's short works has survived a rigorous selection process and been deemed awful enough to meet the festival's high standards.
About 1,000 plays, musicals and films were submitted to this year's CringeFest, which begins July 20 and runs through Aug. 9. Just 24 plays, four musicals and five films were chosen best of the worst.
"It's always kind of nice to get accepted," Budin said. "We have to live with rejection a lot. If you're an author, you live with rejection."
Bearded and squat, Budin, 70, is a retired mechanical engineer who started writing plays in the 1980s. His first work, which has never been produced, is a pirate musical based on the story of Jose Gaspar.
Budin describes himself as a "typical engineer" who grew up ignorant of art. He's unsure what propelled his enthusiasm for the stage.
Nevertheless, he's written some two dozen works and is active in community theater.
He's done plays for children and said most of his work is clean and wholesome. But some wacky and provocative currents stir in Budin, who lives in Clearwater's Island Estates.
His successful entry to this year's CringeFest is called The Adventures of Ray Noir, Beach Detective. It was inspired by Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir radio segments.
In the play, a blond bombshell solicits Ray to help find her missing husband. He's located, apparently dead, in a hot tub on the sailboat Grand Tetons, but with one piece of his anatomy very much alive.
The husband, a victim of Viagra and athletic lovemaking, can't be moved in such a state. A coroner is called who uses the swing of a golf club to help "deaden the raised."
Such ribald wordplay is everywhere:
Ray: "Suppose I meet you at the boat for a look around?"
Blond: "It's at the city dock — slip C2. Look for the Grand Tetons."
Ray: (To audience) "I had already looked at the Grand Tetons but I hope she hadn't caught me at it."
CringeFest claims to seek terrible work, but really it's in the hunt for the over-the-top, clever and funny, said Melba LaRose, artistic director of NY Artists Unlimited, a nonprofit that produces the festival.
"We actually mean naughty, irreverent, politically incorrect or bad satire," LaRose said.
This year, Budin's play will compete for the Golden Pineapple, the festival's top prize, against works such as The Flaming of the Shrew, When Bimbos Attack and Dragnes of God & The Naked Holy Ghost.
Sure, he would prefer a Tony, but chasing the Golden Pineapple will do.
"I'm too old," Budin said, "to live a life of an aspiring playwright trying to get a show on Broadway."
In 2007, Budin had his first triumph at the festival, when his play Come Again? was accepted. It's a modern telling of the nativity story set in Pennsylvania and features a Joseph who's in trouble with the IRS.
When he submitted Come Again? to the festival, he said he didn't know that cringe-worthy work was being sought. Still he was elated at having been chosen and now joins a handful of playwrights with two CringeFest credits.
"Recognition doesn't hurt," Budin said. "If you're known as having something in New York, it's worth something."
Budin said he's learned that bay area audiences are uncomfortable with dirty words and religious parody. His edgier stuff can't get produced around here, he said, but plays well in New York.
"Having grown up in New Jersey," he said, "maybe I speak the same language."
He plans to visit the festival with one of his four adult daughters and her adult children. In 2007, he made a similar trip and was somewhat shocked.
"It was a little bit too much for my ears," Budin said. "But we go because it's a family thing. See what grandpa is up to."
Will Van Sant can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4166.