Brian James Polak

Brian James Polak

Born in New Hampshire | Residing in Chicago | Living in his head.

Plays include THE PATIENT a.k.a. HENRY AND THE HIPPOCAMPUS (The Kennedy Center’s Jean Kennedy Smith Award), WAR PROFITS (The Kennedy Center’s John Cauble Award), UNDERGROUND (The Theatre @ Boston Court's PLAY/ground), and a whole bunch of others you can see listed below this bio. Several of his short plays have been published...
Born in New Hampshire | Residing in Chicago | Living in his head.

Plays include THE PATIENT a.k.a. HENRY AND THE HIPPOCAMPUS (The Kennedy Center’s Jean Kennedy Smith Award), WAR PROFITS (The Kennedy Center’s John Cauble Award), UNDERGROUND (The Theatre @ Boston Court's PLAY/ground), and a whole bunch of others you can see listed below this bio. Several of his short plays have been published in Smith & Kraus anthologies.

Currently writing: COAT OF ARMS, an investigation of Polish history and identity, and NASHUA, a play about the fracturing of a family (can you fracture a thing that was never whole?)

Host of American Theatre Magazine's "The Subtext," a podcast by/for/about playwrights and playwriting.
MFA: University of Southern California, School of Dramatic Arts.

Plays

  • Welcome to Keene, New Hampshire
    I wrote this play because, despite the fact I haven't lived there for many years, I have watched my hometown change as politics have become more polarized and the opioid epidemic has created a stranglehold on it.

    | Full length play |

    What it means to be a human being in this particular place and in this particular time... While being hounded by the local alt-right/anti-...
    I wrote this play because, despite the fact I haven't lived there for many years, I have watched my hometown change as politics have become more polarized and the opioid epidemic has created a stranglehold on it.

    | Full length play |

    What it means to be a human being in this particular place and in this particular time... While being hounded by the local alt-right/anti-government activists, a Mexican-American meter-maid (ahem... Parking Attendant) narrates the daily lives of the residents of Keene, NH, a small town in the southwest corner of the state. She introduces us to the Korean owner of the only Chinese restaurant in town, the local attorney and tennis coach with a dark past, and the musician who needs to be seen for who they truly are and not the daughter their mother insists they will always be. "Welcome to Keene, NH" is a three-act play telling the fictional story of the encroachment of guns, heroin, and the alt-right on a real American small town.
  • The Patient (aka Henry and the Hippocampus)
    This was originally inspired by the Henry Molaison, Clive Wearing, and the work of Oliver Sacks, but I wrote this play because I am pathologically afraid of losing my memory.

    | Full-length play |

    Henry suffers a head trauma causing him to lose the ability to create new memories. Maria, his wife, and Patrick, his doctor, become entwined as they both struggle to balance their own...
    This was originally inspired by the Henry Molaison, Clive Wearing, and the work of Oliver Sacks, but I wrote this play because I am pathologically afraid of losing my memory.

    | Full-length play |

    Henry suffers a head trauma causing him to lose the ability to create new memories. Maria, his wife, and Patrick, his doctor, become entwined as they both struggle to balance their own lives with the life of a man stuck in one perpetual moment. At a time when Patrick becomes frustrated by the lack of progress in his work, Maria convinces him to allow Henry to play piano. When music reenters their lives everything seems to change for the better, until they learn what is lost may never return.
  • News for the Deaf Man
    This play began as an exploration of my relationship with my father, who passed away many years ago. He was a person I never knew so I created a fictional father/son reconciliation.

    | Full-length play |

    Having reached rock bottom, Harry reconnects with his estranged artist father. When the old man's health appears in decline, Harry is caught between cashing in his famous...
    This play began as an exploration of my relationship with my father, who passed away many years ago. He was a person I never knew so I created a fictional father/son reconciliation.

    | Full-length play |

    Having reached rock bottom, Harry reconnects with his estranged artist father. When the old man's health appears in decline, Harry is caught between cashing in his famous father's art in order to save himself, and reconciling their long-ago destroyed relationship.
  • Underground
    This play evolved out of a simple curiosity I had: What the hell did Ted Kaczynski write in that manifesto he famously wrote years ago? I read the document and started to think about how a person could pick and choose elements of any philosophy or worldview and make their own sense out of it. A story about how a domestic terrorist might come to be evolved out of this.

    | Full-length play |...
    This play evolved out of a simple curiosity I had: What the hell did Ted Kaczynski write in that manifesto he famously wrote years ago? I read the document and started to think about how a person could pick and choose elements of any philosophy or worldview and make their own sense out of it. A story about how a domestic terrorist might come to be evolved out of this.

    | Full-length play |

    The sad truth of domestic terrorism is the perpetrators tend to be white men, disillusioned by the changing world around them. In "Underground" a young subway musician gives up his search for love and grapples with his disillusionment by exploring the philosophies of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. On his final day playing guitar in a Boston T station, commuters patiently wait for him to kill the noise of the train with a tune that might never come unless his one true love appears...
  • An Epidemic of Temporary Lunacy (or The Mexico Plan)
    As I was setting out to write a new play I was balancing two separate ideas, unsure which one to explore. The first was about the cycles of abuse... how people who grow up to become abusers were often abused themselves. The second idea was the idea of "time travel parties" where gatherings were held at places like MIT and CalTech, where scientists test the possibility of time travel. I ended up...
    As I was setting out to write a new play I was balancing two separate ideas, unsure which one to explore. The first was about the cycles of abuse... how people who grow up to become abusers were often abused themselves. The second idea was the idea of "time travel parties" where gatherings were held at places like MIT and CalTech, where scientists test the possibility of time travel. I ended up bringing these two ideas together and this play was the outcome.

    | Full-length play about time travel and breaking the cycles of abuse |

    If you could go back and change your life, would you? - - -

    A fledgling scientific genius and his little sister grow tired of being teased and neglected by their overprotective mother and deadbeat uncle. When the boy witnesses what he thinks is his uncle’s nefarious deed, he decides to devote himself to creating a miraculous invention that will save he and his sister from their miserable life.
  • Dance and Crawl and Sing and Fall (formerly Tales from Tent City)
    I remember that feeling of family I had amongst my closest friends in high school. They felt closer to me than my biological family. When I thought about the powerful photo exhibit "Raised by Wolves" by Jim Goldberg, I connected deeply with the runaway teenagers he depicted and this play was the result.

    | Full-length play with songs |

    The sanctuary 5 runaways build in a...
    I remember that feeling of family I had amongst my closest friends in high school. They felt closer to me than my biological family. When I thought about the powerful photo exhibit "Raised by Wolves" by Jim Goldberg, I connected deeply with the runaway teenagers he depicted and this play was the result.

    | Full-length play with songs |

    The sanctuary 5 runaways build in a secluded alley of the city is disrupted when one of their parents arrives, hoping to bring them back home. Inspired by the photo exhibit "Raised by Wolves" by photographer Jim Goldberg, DANCE AND CRAWL AND SING AND FALL presents a group of teenagers who decide to take on the challenges of the streets when life in the suburbs becomes too much to face.

    Lyrics by Brian James Polak | Music Composed by Joey Del Ponte (see link to demos below)
  • Fledglings (Part 1 of 4 of "The Way We Are and the Profits of War" series)
    I read a news article many years ago that told the story of a teenage girl who was raped at a party and then blamed for the event when it went to trial. I have set out to write this play many times over the years as I have found my way into the narrative. This play is the result of my identifying the early moments in life when young men are at the intersection of good and evil. Some move down one of the paths...
    I read a news article many years ago that told the story of a teenage girl who was raped at a party and then blamed for the event when it went to trial. I have set out to write this play many times over the years as I have found my way into the narrative. This play is the result of my identifying the early moments in life when young men are at the intersection of good and evil. Some move down one of the paths and never turn back. Others remain at that intersection forever.

    This play is part of a four-part series following a young teenager from the precipice of high school graduation, to joining the military, fighting in Iraq, and eventually going AWOL after experiencing atrocities he could not condone.

    | Inspired by a true story |

    It's December 31, 1999 and five American teenagers gather to celebrate the new year. With Y2k looming over them, the teens play music and drinking games while debating what the future may hold. As the night of heavy drinking gives way to the sunrise the following morning, Heather is left with foggy memories and a sinking feeling something horrifying happened to her that night.
  • Last to Die for a Lost Cause (Part 4 of 4 of "The Way We Are and the Profits of War" series)
    When I heard the stories coming out of Abu Ghraib during the war in Iraq, I wondered what it would take for soldiers who righteously signed up to fight in a war they believed in to say enough is enough and simply leave. I started to imagine what my breaking point might be. As I was writing this piece, the story of Bowe Bergdahl came out and put a face on the narrative. This play is not about him at all, but...
    When I heard the stories coming out of Abu Ghraib during the war in Iraq, I wondered what it would take for soldiers who righteously signed up to fight in a war they believed in to say enough is enough and simply leave. I started to imagine what my breaking point might be. As I was writing this piece, the story of Bowe Bergdahl came out and put a face on the narrative. This play is not about him at all, but what written in the time his actions were taken.

    This play is part of a four-part series following a young teenager from the precipice of high school graduation, to joining the military, fighting in Iraq, and eventually going AWOL after experiencing atrocities he could not condone.

    | Full-length play |

    After witnessing an event they cannot shake, two soldiers go AWOL during the height of the War in Iraq. With help from a soldier still fighting and a local Iraqi mother, they attempt to escape the country and start a new life elsewhere, but the complications of war push them into a corner, forcing them to make the most difficult decision.
  • moments before medicine
    I started to write this play nine years ago with the question "When a couple in a toxic relationship try to one-up each other in an argument, how far could one take it?" The result became a bit dark and uncomfortable. Over the years, I have placed this piece back in the drawer. I struggle with the bleakness of the work because I yearn for hope. After a recent conversation on this topic, I decided to...
    I started to write this play nine years ago with the question "When a couple in a toxic relationship try to one-up each other in an argument, how far could one take it?" The result became a bit dark and uncomfortable. Over the years, I have placed this piece back in the drawer. I struggle with the bleakness of the work because I yearn for hope. After a recent conversation on this topic, I decided to reinvest some time into this piece.

    | Full length play |

    The walls are closing in on Cody and Betsy. They're sure they love each other, but they're as trapped in their own fantasies as they are the broken down trailer where they live. If Cody can get off the clouds he's huffing, perhaps they can finally open that door and walk outside. The thing is, they can't help but stand in each other's way and there isn't much the sleeping dog in the corner, or the baby growing inside Betsy will do to help the situation.
  • Welcome to Your Life, Jiro Yamaguchi
    Many years ago I was listening to a segment on This American Life when I heard the description of a moment on live television when a man who survived the bombing of Hiroshima was forced to shake hands with one of the pilots of the Enola Gay. This is a piece I felt I had to write, but I feel a great deal of guilt for having written a piece about a man and an experience so far removed from my own. Nobody has...
    Many years ago I was listening to a segment on This American Life when I heard the description of a moment on live television when a man who survived the bombing of Hiroshima was forced to shake hands with one of the pilots of the Enola Gay. This is a piece I felt I had to write, but I feel a great deal of guilt for having written a piece about a man and an experience so far removed from my own. Nobody has accused me of cultural appropriation with this piece, but the elephant in the room is that I am a privileged white American male writing about a Japanese man who survived one of the most horrendous tragedies in history.

    | Full-length play inspired by the true story of Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto |

    Years after the atomic bomb is dropped on his home during World War II, Jiro Yamaguchi finds himself on American television being forced to face a man responsible for dropping the bomb, while reconciling the life flashing before his eyes.
  • The Call List
    When I listened to the podcast "S Town," I was obsessed with a part of it where the town clerk was tasked with calling a list of people to tell them somebody they knew died. I wanted to explore that experience. I also wanted to write something that could be funny. This is the result (and is still a work in progress).

    | One act solo play |

    A depressed legal assistant is...
    When I listened to the podcast "S Town," I was obsessed with a part of it where the town clerk was tasked with calling a list of people to tell them somebody they knew died. I wanted to explore that experience. I also wanted to write something that could be funny. This is the result (and is still a work in progress).

    | One act solo play |

    A depressed legal assistant is tasked with calling individuals on a list left behind by a man who committed suicide. The work assignment could not come a worse time, as they are dealing with their own life/work existential crisis while their mother and sister badger them via text message. Wanting to connect with their estranged father, it's a few kind words from a stranger that might give them what they ultimately need.
  • The Smoking Room
    I once had a job as a consultant and one of my clients was based in Detroit. I must have passed through that airport 20 times. Back in those days they still had a smoking room. This spot fascinated me with the lonely smoking travelers looking like animatronic sculptures. This solo play is a journey into this space.

    | 10 minute monologue |

    En route to his mother's funeral, a...
    I once had a job as a consultant and one of my clients was based in Detroit. I must have passed through that airport 20 times. Back in those days they still had a smoking room. This spot fascinated me with the lonely smoking travelers looking like animatronic sculptures. This solo play is a journey into this space.

    | 10 minute monologue |

    En route to his mother's funeral, a man finds himself stuck in smoking room of the Detroit airport. A conversation with a stranger has unexpected results as he fears the confrontation he'll have with his father as soon as his plane touches down in Buffalo.
  • Protect and Serve
    A couple years ago I was commissioned to write a short play. The news of Tamir Rice's shooting was all I could think about. He did not immediately die when the police shot him. He was on the ground, bleeding to death, and nobody attended to him. They just waited for paramedics to arrive. I could not shake this fact. I never will. I wrote this piece to honor Tamir Rice and his mother.

    | 10...
    A couple years ago I was commissioned to write a short play. The news of Tamir Rice's shooting was all I could think about. He did not immediately die when the police shot him. He was on the ground, bleeding to death, and nobody attended to him. They just waited for paramedics to arrive. I could not shake this fact. I never will. I wrote this piece to honor Tamir Rice and his mother.

    | 10 minute play |

    Inspired by the shooting death of Tamir Rice by a police officer in Cleveland, "Protect & Serve" explores the aftermath of a similar tragedy. Following the funeral for her son, a mother confronts a police officer and a friend of the family. She desperately pleas for him to explain why this happened and who was looking out for her son as he laid bleeding on the ground. She is ultimately left wondering what parents are supposed to tell children when the people who are meant to protect them could be a source of danger.

    | Adapted into short film, directed by Kate Jopson. Link to trailer here: https://vimeo.com/261935515 |
  • Curiosity
    I lived in Los Angeles for about ten years and passed through Skid Row many times. This area of the city is a visceral reminder of society's failure to support the neediest among us. In this play I wanted to spend a few minutes exploring the juxtaposition of the privileged and disadvantaged.

    | 10 minute play |

    A women living in the suburbs steals her abusive husband's...
    I lived in Los Angeles for about ten years and passed through Skid Row many times. This area of the city is a visceral reminder of society's failure to support the neediest among us. In this play I wanted to spend a few minutes exploring the juxtaposition of the privileged and disadvantaged.

    | 10 minute play |

    A women living in the suburbs steals her abusive husband's fancy car, drives to LA's Skid Row, and accidentally strikes a homeless man.
  • What we need at the end of the day…
    My older sister and I never had a final moment when our father died many years ago. I never had a chance to reconcile with him, and because my sister and I lived so far apart, we never had an opportunity to support each other in the moment of loss.

    | 10 minute play |

    Siblings visit their dying, estranged father with resentment and forgiveness on their minds.