“As a Hispanic immigrant, there is a shared knowledge we have with everybody who immigrates to America,” says Moisés Kaufman, the theater veteran who this season directed his first Broadway musical, “Paradise Square.” The show is nominated for 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Kaufman, artistic director and founder of Tectonic Theater Project, told Broadway News that “Paradise Square” is the only musical on Broadway directed by a Hispanic person. The show resonates with him on a different level.
“You never really leave the country that you leave, and you never really land in the country where you land. Your heart is always divided between the two places.”
Set in 1863, “Paradise Square” centers on a group of Black Americans and Irish immigrants living together in the Five Points neighborhood of Lower Manhattan.
Kaufman came to America from his native Venezuela to create live theater. He believed the U.S. would be where he’d have the opportunity to get the most attention and visibility for his work.
After completing his education at New York University, Kaufman founded Tectonic Theater Project in 1991 with his husband, Jeff LaHoste. Over the course of his work with Tectonic, Kaufman has written, directed and developed a number of shows, including “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” “Carmen: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Musical,” the groundbreaking “Laramie Project” and the Tony-nominated “33 Variations.”
“America is a place that for centuries has been looked upon as where you come to fulfill your dreams,” Kaufman says.
There’s a line in “Paradise Square” that Kaufman pointed out, sung by one of the characters: “I dreamed about America but I never dreamed of this.”
“The experience that every immigrant has is the confrontation between their expectation versus reality of what the country provides and allows for,” adds Kaufman.
On the whole, Kaufman says that “Paradise Square” is “exactly the sweet spot of everything I love.”
“I’m always interested in work that is at the intersection of the personal and the political,” notes Kaufman, adding that he loves theatricality and “looking at history through the eyes of the other.”
Often referring to himself as an “activist-in-art,” Kaufman says that “Paradise Square” also “explores America’s social contract and a lot of the ideological roots that we’re still struggling over.”
Kaufman has been at the helm of the musical since the Berkeley Repertory Theatre production in 2018. And as the world continues to shift, the show takes on new meaning.
“Every time humans become violated against one another, ‘Paradise Square’ speaks in a different way,” Kaufman says.
“The eye of the immigrant is a very exciting way of looking through the eye of the other. It’s also very, very painful. No matter how long you’ve lived in America, you’re always an immigrant.”
“Paradise Square” is currently running at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.