Playwright and newly hired television writer Itamar Moses earned his MFA in dramatic writing at New York University after graduating from Yale in 1999. Now a resident of Park Slope, Brooklyn, he has since written several critically acclaimed plays and taught a residential college seminar on playwriting. Moses’ play “Bach at Leipzig” which premiered off Broadway in 2005 and was inspired by a book he read while taking a music history course at Yale, is coming back to where it was first conceived in a new production at the Off-Broadway Theater. WEEKEND talked to him via telephone this past Tuesday about the drama of being a playwright.
Q. Can you remember a key course that influenced your playwriting?
A. I took a class in the music department my sophomore year on Bach. We read a biography of Bach, where I first came across the incident of the Leipzig audition. I literally got the idea for the play from reading a chapter in that biography. The play “Bach at Leipzig” is based on a real event – Bach’s audition for the post as an organist at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. I wondered how funny it must have been to go audition for a musician job and for one of the people to say, “Hello, I’m Bach.” Without the perspective we have hundreds of years later, it was not clear what was merit versus politics [in making the decision to hire him].
Q. What would you like Yale students to learn from “Bach at Leipzig”?
A. Being at a college like Yale in particular is a very cloistered time; you are protected. [People think that] from this elevated place they can do great work. But you really need to be down in the mess to do anything worthwhile. It is OK to come down off your high horse and realize that you will face failure and compromise.
Q. What was your strangest experience at Yale?
A. My funniest theater experience was my first play, which I put up in Nick Chapel as a sophomore. A strange thing happened: for one performance, the lights came up and one of the actors was missing from the top of the scene he was supposed to be in; I was at the back of the house just waiting for the approaching train wreck. It got to his first line and he said it from off stage, and it made the line ten times funnier. After the show, I said, “You should do that in the future.” He said, “No, I really had to pee.” While saying the line, he was peeing into a Gatorade bottle.
Q. How about in your professional career?
A. “Bach at Leipzig” went through multiple versions before it entered its final form. In 2002, there was a production in Florida, in which the play wasn’t really done. The play that premiered in New York in 2005 was totally transformed. After one production off Broadway, this old couple in the back said they saw the play in Florida. They asked me, “What did you change?” I laughed. I had thrown out about two thirds of the play.
Q. “Vanity Fair” described “The Four of Us” as the story of a feud between you and Jonathan Safran Foer. What’s the real story?
A. Any play is somewhat autobiographical. But the press took that extremely literally, describing the play as someone trying to take down someone else, but it is actually a gentle piece of writing about the delicacy of friendship. I am friends with Safran Foer. We met on a summer trip to Israel during high school.
Q. What does a normal day consist of for you?
A. Since this past September, I have started working for television. For about five years, I [was a freelancer and] could make my own schedule and try to write for a few hours, but now I have an office in the Brooklyn Navy Yard since I am now working for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” outlining stories and going off to write them.
Q. What’s on the horizon for you?
A. I have a new play opening in April in Costa Mesa, California called “Completeness” about a love story between a computer scientist and a molecular biologist: a story about nerds.