<< Previous


Interview with Tom Jacobson

As many LA playwrights continue a never ending struggle to get some recognition, prolific and well-deserving Tom Jacobson has reason to cheer. With the recent publication of his play Bunbury (originally produced in 2005 at The Road and subsequently recorded by LA Theatre Works) and the soon to be released publication of Ouroboros (produced at The Road in 2004), his newest, the world premiere The Friendly Hour will open September 12 once again at The Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood. Jacobson has an extraordinary style and is terribly clever with the use of time lines within his plays. In our conversation he talks about The Friendly Hour, Bunbury, his favorite writers and other theatrical curiosities.

Q: What makes The Friendly Hour different from your other plays, besides the fact that all the characters are women? Do you manipulate time in any way? Tell us briefly about this play.

TJ: The Friendly Hour has a lot in common with many of my plays:  it's about Midwesterners or people with Midwestern backgrounds, like The Orange Grove; it's based on historical documents like The Beloved Disciple and The Chinese Massacre (Annotated); it's based on people I know, like Ouroboros.  I do have another play that's all women, Pipestone, but it's never been produced. It's different from my other plays in that it follows ordinary people over almost their entire lives, which gives me the opportunity to show how their lives reflect the life of our country over the same 70 years. The play's approach to time is fairly traditional:  it dips into the characters' lives twelve times between 1934 and 2007. Another difference is that this play is based so closely on the minutes of the ladies' club meetings, their correspondence and real biographies compiled by their daughters. While I have combined characters, heightened conflict and invented some incidents, this play is the most faithful to reality of all my work. 

Q: Which of your plays that have been mounted is your favorite? Why?

TJ: Ouroboros is in my opinion my best play because the emotions are so powerful and the structure is innovative. I have great affection for Bunbury, of course, as it's so optimistic.  But my favorite is almost always the one going up at the moment--so right now it's The Friendly Hour.

Q: I think as a playwright you stand apart as a true original. What makes you different in your own mind?

TJ: I don't think I'm that different from many playwrights. Some of my particular experiments in structure and with the temporal nature of theatre are original, but others experiment in somewhat similar ways (Alan Ayckborn, Harold Pinter) and Bunbury has been called Stoppardesque and The Orange Grove Chekhovian because I consciously drew from the styles of these great playwrights. But every playwright is original because s/he is writing from an individual point of view. I remind my students that no one has their particular life experience so no one can write exactly like them.  No one else is a 47 year old male Angeleno from Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida and Oklahoma of Norwegian/Swedish/German/Polish/ Hungarian/Czech/French/English/Irish/Scottish background who went to college in Chicago and graduate school in Los Angeles and works in a natural history museum and lives in a loft in Koreatown with his husband who is a Latino abstract expressionist artist. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one of those. I value everyone's life experience, find everybody fascinating if closely examined, and I'd like to think the same is true of my life.

Q: Wow! That autobiography is the most succinct yet the most thorough I’ve ever heard. It belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records!
Now, Tom, be truthful, if you could wake up in another writer's body, who would you choose?

TJ: Do any writers have hot bodies?  Couldn't I wake up in a model's body? I admire many writers, but I don't think I'd want to actually be any of them. Churchill, Stoppard, Chekhov, Kushner, Williams, Albee and of course Shakespeare are some of my favorites, but just think about their bodies!  And so many writers had terrible troubles--Williams, O'Neill, and Wilde come to mind--that I don't think I'd be willing to make the trade.

Q: I think we talked about this before, but let's do it again. What was your inspiration for Bunbury?

TJ: Any gay man reading or seeing The Importance of Being Earnest knows exactly what Algernon was up to when he was off in the country “Bunburying.” But with whom was he carrying on? Oscar Wilde leaves this up to our imagination, and mine conjured Bunbury, the imaginary invalid at the heart of this play. Bunbury is in many ways Wilde himself: witty, intelligent, generous, kind-hearted, manipulated by his lover, and about a century ahead of his time. Now that the 20th Century is over, we can look back to see how the world changed in that time and how its literature both reflected the times and influenced them. I think that was the play’s appeal to the audiences who saw it.

Q: Everyone loves the play. I was thrilled to be a part of it. (I performed as understudy a few times.) I hear people allude to the production all the time: “Oh, that Bunbury at The Road was the best!”, and congrats, by the way, on its recent publication.

TJ: That was really cool, and next will be Ouroboros.

Q: Also produced by The Road. What is special about The Road and why do you think they have chosen four of your plays to produce?

TJ: The Road Theatre Company is wonderfully loyal to playwrights, but not to a fault. They only want to produce my best plays, and the plays that are best for The Road and its audience. I have plenty they would never produce, even though they might admire the work. I'm familiar enough with The Road to write with their company in mind, which is one of the reasons I wrote an all-female play. Although I suppose almost any company in LA could cast a play of 20-30-something white women...  The company cares about good roles for its actors but also values the audience experience.  Many companies put on bad plays that show off their actors, and other theatres mount plays that are fun for their directors but impenetrable for audiences. The Road strikes a nice balance.

Q: What's up next? Isn't there another play of yours about to be produced in another theater real soon?

TJ: Circle X Theatre Company mounted a workshop production The Chinese Massacre (Annotated) at the Autry in July, a play they commissioned through the Los Angeles History Project.  Marya Mazor did a terrific job with a very challenging play (20 actors!), and Circle X is considering a full production in the fall of 2009.  But I've written another very personal play since then and am almost done outlining yet another LA-history play. I know the next three plays I'd like to write, and that's a great feeling.

Q: Since you've done a play with all women, what about one with all men? The sequel to Boys in the Band was a disappointment, what about playing with that or a male version of Vanities?

TJ: I've written a number of plays for all-male casts, including The Beloved Disciple (gay men in Elizabethan England), House of the Rising Son (gay men in New Orleans), Los York (gay men who are also bicoastal), and Sweeter Than Pussy ( which is The Odyssey set entirely in a sauna in a Koreatown gym).  Only one of these has been produced....hmmm.

Hmmm, is right. They all sound so intriguing. What’s going on, guys? Producing theater companies, take note! You can be assured that with
Tom Jacobson on the marquee, there are two guarantees: totally provocative theatre and sold out houses throughout the run.
Don’t miss The Friendly Hour at The Road commencing September 12!
Visit their website for further info:

Next >>