The Wunderkind

“You wouldn’t happen to have a personal stake in this?”—Avi, a high school newspaper editor in Yellowjackets, discussing a potential editorial

Moses grew up in Berkeley, California, the son of a film professor and a psychotherapist who met in the Israeli army. Because Gavriel Moses was an Italian emigrant, the army had enrolled him in Yael Miller’s Hebrew class. But Gavriel had lived in Israel until he was eight and already spoke fluent Hebrew, “so he had nothing better to do than flirt with the teacher,” Moses recounts. The couple moved to the United States so Gavriel could complete doctoral studies at Brown. (He is now an associate professor of Italian and Film Studies at the University of California–Berkeley; Yael is in private practice.)

From his mother, Moses imbibed a fascination with Freudian psychology. (The three baseball players in Back Back Back, he says, represent the Ego, the Superego, and the Id.) From the example of his father, who has long planned to make his own films but not yet begun, Moses says he drew the lesson not to put his own dreams on hold—“a sense of urgency, that I better do this right away, and I better not put it off.”

Moses attended Berkeley High and edited the school newspaper, an experience he would elaborate on in the 2008 play Yellowjackets. With ethnic and racial conflicts at a boil, Berkeley High was “a scary place to go to school,” he says. “What was frustrating and frightening about it,—and then, later in life, dramatically useful—was being in a position where there was a possibility of being physically assaulted.” And yet because of the school’s politics and his status as white and privileged, “if you were to complain about it, or to imply that the attack seemed to be in some way racially motivated, you were also on the wrong side of that argument.”

Seeing Tony Kushner’s Angels in America when he was 17—“just an overwhelmingly powerful experience”—pushed Moses toward playwriting. At Yale, he became a humor columnist for the Yale Daily News, took playwriting courses, and helped stage three of his works. He also acted, “mainly just to get to know everybody. Then I could force other people to be in my plays!” he says. “But I actually loved performing.”