Moisés Kaufman is the director of The Tallest Tree in the Forest which is currently playing at Arena Stage. He has previously directed at Arena with his plays 33 Variations (premiered at Arena) and The Laramie Project Cycle. Moisés is a Tony- and Emmy-nominated director and award-winning playwright. He most recently directed the Broadway revival of The Heiress with Jessica Chastain and wrote and directed 33 Variations on Broadway, starring Jane Fonda, which received five Tony nominations. Moisés also directed Rajiv Joseph’s Pulitzer Prize finalist Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo with Robin Williams on Broadway in spring 2011. Previous to that, Moisés directed the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play I Am My Own Wife. His plays Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and The Laramie Project have been among the most performed plays in America over the last decade. He recently directed his first opera, El Gato con Botas (Puss in Boots). Other NY and regional credits include The Nightingale (La Jolla Playhouse), A Common Pursuit (Roundabout), Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Mark Taper Forum), Macbeth with Liev Schreiber (Public Theater), This Is How It Goes (Donmar Warehouse), One Arm by Tennessee Williams (New Group and Steppenwolf Theater Company), Master Class with Rita Moreno (Berkeley Repertory Theater) and Lady Windermere’s Fan (Williamstown Theater Festival). Moisés also co-wrote and directed the film adaptation of The Laramie Project for HBO, which received two Emmy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Writer. He is the Artistic Director of Tectonic Theater Project, creator of Moment Work (Tectonic’s method for creating theater) and a Guggenheim Fellow in Playwriting. No matter what kind of show Moisés is working on you can be sure it will be one that’s ripe for discussion after you see it. When you see a show directed or written by Moisés Kaufman you always leave the theatre talking about it. I have seen much of his work and it is always interesting, thought provoking and in the case of The Laramie Project, very potent. That is the mark of a great artist.
What drew you to The Tallest Tree in the Forest?
For a long time, I thought that Paul was one of the most exceptional figures of the 20th century. He was a magnificent artist, a brilliant scholar, an all-star football player and a passionate activist. Not for nothing was he the most famous black man in the world during the 30s and 40s. The idea of a man who was a world renowned singer and actor struggling with the responsibilities that his fame brought about was something that really intrigued me. When someone like Robeson achieves that level of fame, does he not have a responsibility to speak about race oppression? If the answer is yes, how far must he go to speak out for that struggle? He was at first a great artist but the more aware he grew of the oppression of African American people all over the world, he realized that inevitably he would have to make a decision between being an artist and being an activist and that to me seemed like a very worthy subject of a play.
Had you been familiar with Paul Robeson prior to starting work on this show?
Somewhat, but since working on the play my understanding of the man has deepened.
When you first started putting together The Laramie Project with your company Tectonic Theater Project, did you have any idea that there would be a sequel and the show would be performed by companies all over the country?
Absolutely not. When one starts working on any new play it is impossible to predict what its reception will be.
Can you please tell us about what your inspiration was to write Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde?
Somebody gave me as a present, a book entitled “The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde.” In it there was an excerpt of Wilde’s trial. read that excerpt and I was hooked. I always thought Wilde had been tried for his homosexuality but reading the transcripts of the trial I noticed that a large part of the proceedings were dedicated to questioning Wilde about his writing- his novels, his poetry and his plays, and it hit me that he was tried as much for his art as he was for his sexual orientation. That’s that made me want to write the play.
Can you please tell us about your next few projects?
My immediate next project is an adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen.