New York City Playwright Moisés Kaufman

Name: Moisés Kaufman
Career: Writer and director
Home: New York
Hails from: Caracas, Venezuela
Next Project: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo; Broadway previews begin March 11th
Spotted on a Saturday night: At the theater

Tell us about your production of Ravij Joseph’s play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.
It’s one ofthe best new american plays I’ve read in a long while. Rajiv’s theatrical imagination, insight into character and breadth of craftmanship really blew me away the first moment I read the text. It’s a play about the Iraq War but it’s also a ghost story and a very darkly and savagely funny. It’s so very hard to write plays about current events. Because theater deals in metaphor. And current-day events tend to the prosaic. But Rajiv has found a great way of doing it.

When did Robin Williams come into the picture?
When we decided to take the show to Broadway.

Where do you recommend grabbing dinner before the show?
Bar Centrale‘s my favorite. Also Angus, where the eponymous owner is a treat and knows all the goings-on in the theater community.

The 2009 Broadway run of 33 Variations was fabulous. 33 Variations is back up on the boards at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, one of my favorite shows. How does it feel to revisit this production?
Wonderful. Mike Nichols always says that when you do anything creative you have to give your subconscious time to participate. A year away from the play has done just that.

It must be a lot of fun to work with Jane Fonda.
What’s great about working with Jane is how devoted she is to her craft. She’s been working for over 50 years as an actress and has worked with so many brilliant directors and yet, there’s a humility and a curiosity to her that inspires everyone in the room. In Buddhism they speak of Beginners Mind. She practices that. It’s inspiring.

You and Jeffrey LaHoste founded the Tectonic Theater Project in 1991. In the past twenty years productions like the Laramie Project, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and I Am My Own Wife have inspired national and international dialogue about rights.
The mission of the company is to create work that explores theatrical language and form. However, as artists living in today’s world, a lot of our work has been “socially” and “politically” relevant. And I think that’s because any rigorous exploration of what theater can do has to address the world in which we live. And theater is particularly well suited to deal with the truth.

You recently revisited the Laramie Project on a national level. How does the play resonate in this new decade?
We are fortunate to live at a time when a real revolution is taking place. In the civil right fight for the GLBTQ community, there have undoubtedly been gains. But there’s still so much to do. And we are – not by choice – at the very core of the political discussion in the country. The Laramie Project is one of the ten most produced plays in the country in the last decade. I don’t mention this to brag. But to point out that theater that addresses ideas that are in the national consciousness will always find a stage.

You were at the White House when President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act. What was it like to be there for such a monumental moment?
Monumental. Seriously. During the Bush administration we saw no movement at all in any government agency in relation to civil rights for the GLBTQ community. So this was very important, moving and inspiring. And now ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is on its way out. And marriage will be the next big battle.

We recently ran into each other at the Marina Abramovic retrospective at the MoMa. What are your favorite museums in New York?
Frick; Metropolitan; Neue Galerie. The galleries in Chelsea and Soho.

Who are some of the artists who inspire you most?
Simon McBurney, Robert Lepage, Gustavo Dudamel, George Seurat.

If someone’s in New York for only 24 Hours, and wanted to catch some of your favorites spots in town, what would you recommend?
24 hours isn’t enough.

Photo Credit: Headshot by Joan Marcus, Laramie Photo by Michael Lutch

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