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Kaufman, Moisés (b. ca 1964)  
 
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Award-winning writer and director Moisés Kaufman first received international acclaim for his Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. He subsequently wrote the deeply affecting play The Laramie Project about reaction to the brutal murder of gay university student Matthew Shepard, and directed Doug Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about East German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, I Am My Own Wife.

Moisés Kaufman's parents survived the Holocaust in Rumania and, following World War II, immigrated to Venezuela, where Kaufman was born around 1964. Growing up in Caracas, Kaufman was acutely aware of being an outsider as a member of a small Jewish community in an overwhelmingly Catholic country.

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Kaufman's Orthodox Jewish parents sent him to the yeshiva, a school that provided both religious and academic instruction. Although Kaufman would eventually cease to practice Orthodox Judaism, he valued its lessons on Talmudic scholarship, especially "tak[ing] a sentence from the Bible and analys[ing] it twenty different ways." He would later apply the principle of considering situations from various perspectives in his theater work. Indeed, the recognition that every dramatic experience may be viewed in multiple ways is one of Kaufman's signature traits as a writer and director.

Already feeling like an outsider because he was part of a minority religious group, Kaufman had a further sense of marginalization because he realized at an early age that he was gay. Coming out would have brought disapproval from the Orthodox Jewish community, while in the wider Venezuelan society, where a culture of machismo and prevailed, to be openly gay would have been dangerous.

Kaufman entered college in Caracas planning to major in business but soon found himself drawn to the theater department instead. He joined Thespis, an experimental theater company, and acted for five years in plays from Molière to Ionesco as well as in contemporary pieces chosen by the group's artistic director, Fernando Ivosky.

As a result of his experience with Thespis, Kaufman decided that he wanted to pursue a career in directing rather than acting. He also realized that he "couldn't be gay in Venezuela" since "it was too much of a macho Catholic country." He moved to the United States in 1987 and enrolled at New York University, where he studied in the Experimental Theatre Wing.

It was there that he met the love of his life, Jeffrey LaHoste. Both were enrolled in a workshop on political theater. On the first day of class the professor declared that there was "not enough love" in New York City and instructed the students to embrace the person next to them. Kaufman and LaHoste complied, and both felt an attraction. It took a few more weeks for them to acknowledge it, but happily they did and have become not only partners for life but also artistic collaborators.

The Tectonic Theater Project

In 1991, Kaufman used his contacts in the Experimental Theatre Wing to found the Tectonic Theater Project, of which he is artistic director and LaHoste managing director. One of the goals of the Tectonic Theater Project is to move beyond entrenched traditions to explore new theatrical vocabularies and fuller uses of the stage. Though experimental, Kaufman's stagecraft tends to be simple and straightforward, often employing direct address to the audience, juxtaposing contradictory viewpoints, and having actors assume multiple roles. Valuing a highly collaborative approach, the Project often undertakes productions that involve a great deal of research and that examine historical and political issues with the goal of contributing to public discourse about significant topics and events.

One of the Tectonic Theater Project's first productions was Women in Beckett, a compilation of four short plays, which was presented off Broadway in 1991. Most of the eight actresses who constituted the cast were over the age of sixty-five, an affirmation of Kaufman's belief in the value of diversity and respect for all people.

With the Tectonic Theater Project, Kaufman went on to direct many well-received plays. These include In the Winter of Cities, based on poems by Tennessee Williams, Marlowe's Eye by Naomi Iizuka, and Franz Xavier Kroetze's The Nest, which won an Obie award.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

The play that brought Kaufman to greater public attention, however, was his Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. He spent two years crafting the piece from trial transcripts, the memoirs of Wilde and of his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, newspaper accounts, letters, and other sources. The result is a drama that offers the spectator a variety of perspectives, while never losing sight of the injustice suffered by Wilde. After successful productions in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Gross Indecency opened off Broadway in 1997.

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