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Kaufman, Moisés (b. ca 1964)  
 
page: 1  2  3  

Audiences and critics alike responded enthusiastically to the play. Its run was extended, and the show was honored with the Lucille Lortel Award for best play and the Outer Critics Choice Award for best off-Broadway play. For Gross Indecency, Kaufman also received a GLAAD Media Award and a Lambda Book Award.

Gross Indecency approached the Wilde scandal as what Kaufman refers to as a "historical watershed" moment, one of those events around which the ideologies and values of an entire culture coalesce. In the play, the late Victorian period is sharply etched through the views of a variety of characters who speak not only of homosexuality, but also of a host of broader issues of class, art, religion, morality, and politics. Hence the play not only retells the gripping (though familiar) story of Wilde's tragic fall, but also places on trial a society that made the poet and playwright a scapegoat for its own sexual and moral insecurities and hypocrisies.

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The Laramie Project

Kaufman next went to work on The Laramie Project, an exploration of another watershed moment, the homophobic murder of college student Matthew Shepard in October 1998. As a theater artist he wanted to contribute to the public dialogue that the murder instigated, and he chose to do so by focusing on the viewpoints of the people of Laramie, Wyoming.

Because of the success of Gross Indecency, which ran for almost two years in New York and was subsequently produced in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, and London, the Tectonic Theater Project had funds to undertake research trips to Wyoming. In addition, the company received forty thousand dollars from the Rockefeller Institute to develop the play.

Kaufman, LaHoste, and nine other people from Tectonic went to Laramie in November 1998, less than a month after the murder, to begin a long process of interviewing citizens of the town.

They soon discovered that Laramie had "no gay center," but they were able to make some contacts. They found a range of attitudes among the gay and lesbian people that they encountered, some of whom favored being out and politically active while others preferred to keep a low profile to avoid trouble.

Kaufman and LaHoste were deeply affected by a visit to the fence where Shepard's assailants left him for dead. LaHoste later recalled that Kaufman was moved to tears and said, "It's so sad that Matthew will never have what you and I have."

After their initial trip to Laramie, ten members of the Tectonic group composed the first draft of the script. They travelled to Wyoming six more times to conduct more interviews—over two hundred in all. They also attended the trial of Russell Henderson, one of the men who murdered Shepard.

One of Kaufman's technical challenges was to "create a whole town onstage with only eight people." The play required the members of the small company to play more than sixty roles.

Kaufman's particular artistic challenge was to shape varying points of view into a coherent whole. He has pointed out that he chose to call his theater group Tectonic because the word refers to "the art and science of structure." He explained that "as a gay man, I'm interested in revealing the structure: who tells what story, and how, is important to me." He added that "as a gay person, you're forced to define yourself—that's how we learn that identity is a construct." He applied these thoughts to give form to the play, which is structured as a series of juxtaposed monologues. By presenting multiple viewpoints and allowing the audience to assemble them and reach a conclusion, Kaufman is able both to achieve coherence and to preserve the multiplicity of perspective.

Kaufman also adapted and directed the HBO film version of The Laramie Project, which was selected as the Opening Night Premiere at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Featuring a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Amy Madigan, Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo, and Camryn Manheim, the film is structured as a kind of faux documentary. This self-conscious approach creates a work that lacks some of the immediacy of the stage experience, but it compensates for that loss by moving beyond the specific events of the murder of a young man to examine broader questions of intolerance in America at the beginning of a new millennium.

In 2008, ten years after Shepard's murder, members of the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to conduct follow-up interviews with residents featured in the play. Those interviews were turned into a companion piece, entitled The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. The play debuted as a reading at nearly 150 theatres across the United States and internationally on October 12, 2009, the eleventh anniversary of Shepard's death.

The stage and film versions of The Laramie Project have had an enormous impact in keeping alive the memory of Matthew Shepard and the significance of his murder. The stage version has quickly become one of the most frequently produced plays by college and community theaters in the United States.

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