The Devil's Wife, Interview with Tom Jacobson

The Devil's Wife - The Seduction of Playwright Tom Jacobson

By Elaine L. Mura [Photos removed]

Award-winning and very prolific playwright Tom Jacobson divides his busy day between writing plays, fund raising for the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles, and supporting theater as a board member. He has had 25 full-length plays and 11 one-act plays produced and over double that number "in the works." Within the next three months, he is scheduled to premiere two plays to Los Angeles audiences, "The Devil’s Wife" at Skylight Theatre Company and "Walking to Buchenwald" at Open Fist Theatre Company. Author Tom Jacobson was interviewed on June 30, 2017. Luckily, Tom managed to carve out a few minutes to talk about "The Devil’s Wife," which opens for the Skylight Theatre audiences on July 15, 2017.

WHAT DOES AN ADMINISTRATOR FOR LA’S MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY DO? DO YOU FIND ANY CROSS-OVER BETWEEN WORKING AT THE MUSEUM AND THE MANY PLAYS THAT YOU’VE WRITTEN?

I’m in charge of fund raising for the Museum of Natural History. The museum has provided me with boundless inspiration for my plays. There are so many interesting departments in the museum dealing with so many fascinating subjects. For example, I’ve gotten lots of ideas through working with the history department. I’m immersed in the past, but also in the present.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE "THE DEVIL’S WIFE?" HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA?

I was on a trip to Mexico, and we climbed to the top of a pyramid in Yucatan. It was raining, but the sun was shining too. A double rainbow was just in front of us. My partner and I both have Southern roots, and there’s an old wives’ tale about the sun shining while it’s raining. They say the devil is beating his wife –and that gave me the idea for a play. There’s an Italian folk tale too about the devil’s wife. I started with that and took it farther than the original. "The Devil’s Wife" is an old story, but there are some modern themes. It could be set anywhere...in nineteenth century Mexico or Los Angeles. The director, Eric Hoff, and I decided to set it in Los Angeles in the latter part of the 1860’s. It was a period of drought and even a locust infestation. It was also the end of the "Rancho" period because of the climate problems in the area. That said, the story is really timeless.

DID YOU CHOOSE THE TITLE AS A METAPHOR FOR ANY OF THE CHARACTERS IN YOUR PLAY?

All three of the main characters become the Devil’s wife, but my play focuses on the youngest. She’s the last of the three to be married. The devil is a serial monogamist, and he’s doing away with any wives who came before.

WHICH WRITERS HAVE YOU BEEN MOST INFLUENCED BY?

I enjoy all the classical plays going back to the Greeks, and I especially admire Shakespeare, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, and other modern playwrights. I think that the playwright who most influenced me is Caryl Churchill. I love "Cloud Nine." I like the way it works with actors changing roles. I do that myself in a lot of plays. I like actors to be flexible, to play the role in different ways.

IS THERE A MOMENT WHEN YOU KNOW THE SCRIPT IS COMPLETE AND YOU STOP MAKING CHANGES? OR DO YOU KEEP MAKING CHANGES UP TO THE LAST MINUTE?

I like the flexibility of making changes when they’re important, and working with the Skylight Theatre allows for that. "The Devil’s Wife" was begun years ago. There have been readings in Los Angeles, and I’ve kept refining it. I guess I could say that I stop making revisions when the play is published. But I usually do my final re-write after production. I like to observe the audience and make an adjustment or two. I also like to hear what the actors, the director, and the producer have to say, their point of view. When something doesn’t work, I need to change it. I remember once I got into an argument for 45 minutes with two actors over a single word in one of my other plays. And, yes, I did change the word.

WHO DO YOU THINK THIS PLAY WILL APPEAL TO THE MOST?

"The Devil’s Wife" deals with a number of themes. It’s about women being empowered. It’s set in a time period when that wasn’t the case...but these women are forward thinking. Anyone interested in the changing role of women should enjoy the play. It takes a historical and a contemporary look at religion. I’m inviting the emeritus pastor in my church to see it. The characters are young and sexy, so you could say I’m also exploring relationships, which should appeal to a younger audience.

WHAT’S IN THE FUTURE FOR YOU?

On September 9 this year, one of my other plays is going into production. I wrote "Walking to Buchenwald" 13 years ago when we went to Europe doing family genealogy. It’s an exploration of individual identity and what it means to be an American. I wrote it in the Bush era, but I think it’s even more relevant now during the Trump presidency. Again, I was influenced by Caryl Churchill because we plan to mix and match the roles. There are two older people, and they’re a lot like my parents. The three younger characters can be men or women. I’m also finalizing touches on "Senor Plummer’s Final Fiesta." I did that in collaboration with two other writers. It takes place in the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Los Angeles. The play is kind of the origin myth of Plummer Park. It’s full of the tall tales Eugene Plummer said are true stories of his life. I’m also working on a play inspired by the two guys who were killed when they attempted to defend Moslem women who were being harassed. It’s about heroism. I want to combine different actors rotating in all the roles. I’m also doing re-writes on three other plays that I hope will be produced next year.

Clearly, playwright Tom Jacobson has managed to organize his life in intriguing and complex ways. To his credit, he achieves success in any direction he chooses to explore.

The Devil’s Wife by Tom Jacobson opens at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 15, 2017. It runs through August 20, 2017, with performances at 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays (except July 29). It will run in rep with The Lost Child by Jennifer W. Rowland which opens at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, 2017. It runs through September 3, 2017, with performances at 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Tickets range from $15 to $39. For information and reservations, call 213-761-7061 or go online.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE DEVIL'S WIFE