My play S.O.E. all started with my relationship with an asshole.Â And I mean that in the most creative and self-realizing way.
About 10 years ago, my life was a mix of a mess and discovery.Â I had just gotten divorced from a perfectly nice man whom I didn’t love anymore, and I had just started grad school in Boston to get my MFA in creative writing.Â I was starting the life I always knew I wanted but was too afraid to pursue. And I was determined to fall in love with someone who understood me.Â It was in grad school where I met that very charming, very good-looking man who would take me and my writing abilities for a ride.
For nearly two years, he fed me wonderful promises of our future together, slipping me just enough affection and compliments, like water through an IV drip, to keep my hope alive.Â Plus, I saw him every week in class and at the bars where we had a great time discussing writing for hours. I have to be honest here — I absolutely loved this new “writer” chapter of life.
But I chose to ignore the humiliating side of this chapter.Â I compromised my principles (he had an ex-girlfriend who really wasn’t his ex), and I helped him with his writing at the expense of my own (that included helping him rewrite his own stories).Â My friends could see my self-destructive behavior and told me so. Many times over many drinks.Â But I had convinced myself that I all needed to do was wait for him to see that we were meant to be.
Thank god he never had a change of heart, for that would have been a real tragic ending.Â Because, as we all know, assholes never change.
Once grad school ended, I had a breakdown and breakthrough, and I finally ended this toxic relationship.Â Soon after, I met Brian Polak, who was part of a theater company in Boston.Â I started writing plays again and everything clicked for me — I was a playwright, not necessarily a fiction writer. Brian and I got married and moved to Los Angeles, and my playwriting career began to take off.
It was Brian who really pushed to me write S.O.E., which at that time was titled The Sinker. He pointed out that most people, at some point in their lives, compromise themselves for a person who will use them and never return affection.Â And that is a play.
At first, The Sinker was difficult to finish, as it required me to look in the mirror and relive that humiliation.Â But it paid off with a 2010 production at HotCity Theatre in St. Louis, MO.Â The cast, director, crew and everyone at HotCity Theatre were amazing, and it was nominated for a Kevin Kline Award for outstanding new play in St. Louis.
Flash forward to the spring of 2012.Â Diana Wyenn tells me she wants to produce The Sinker and play the role of Candi.Â I love Diana’s work as an actor and theater artist, so I’m game. She then introduces me to Michael Kass and Jessica Hanna.Â There’s a table read and I’m struck with how perfect these three actors are for the roles. I get excited.Â Jessica then says Darin Anthony would be great as the director. I get even more excited because I loved his work with EM Lewis’ Heads.Â Darin reads the play and wants to direct it.Â Score!
The final pieces fall into place when my dear friend Cece Tio, theater producer extraordinaire, joins the team and we decide to produce the play in the Speakeasy space at Atwater Village Theatre. Set and lighting designer Aaron Francis, sound designer Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski, and props/effects designer John Burton get on board.Â Now I’m absolutely ecstatic. I have a powerhouse team of LA theater artists bringing my play to life, and our fundraising is going better than expected (the outpouring of financial support has been amazing!).
I’m feeling like one of the luckiest playwrights in Los Angeles County.Â But it gets better.
Since the 2010 production of The Sinker, I’ve written four more plays and many wonderful things have happened to me as a playwright.Â But now I felt the 2010 version was lacking in something, so I took this opportunity to further develop the play with Darin.Â His insights struck something new in me, and I returned to that painful look in the mirror once again.Â Who was I during grad school all those years ago?Â I mean, I did some really compromising (and stupid) things for that guy, and I couldn’t help but ask myself: What was wrong with me? How did I not see this for nearly two years? Was I afflicted with some sort of disease?
Clearly, I was afflicted. “Afflicted?” Darin repeated back to me.Â I could see the director wheels spark and turn in his brain.Â He knew exactly what I meant.
“Yup,” I said.Â “I was afflicted.”
With that, I dug deeper into my characters, explored new passages in the world of my play, and made many exciting discoveries.Â I now had a different play, and it needed a new title. It’s set in Boston, as a terrible winter storm has created a state of emergency. The new title is S.O.E.
I can’t thank Darin, the cast and creative team, and my husband Brian enough for supporting the further development of this play.Â I am both truly forever in their debt and truly blown away by the generosity of the Los Angeles theater community.
To think my opportunity to work with these amazing theater artists all started because of my relationship with an asshole in Boston.Â Maybe I should thank him in the program”¦
And then again, maybe not.
S.O.E., produced by Episodic Entity at Atwater Village Theatre’s Speakeasy, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039. Opens Saturday. Sat and Mon 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Through April 15. Tickets: $20 online; $24 at the door with student & group discounts available. www.soetheplay.com. 323-825-1865.
**All S.O.E. production photos by Ashley West Leonard.
Jami Brandli’s plays include Technicolor Life, BLISS (or Emily Post is Dead!), M-Theory and Â¡Soldadera!.Â She won the John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award and the Holland New Voices Award. For more information, visit www.jamibrandli.com.