Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Ghost Light" ☼ ☼ ☼

Judging from reading the reviews from Ashland of Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone's "Ghost Light," when it opened last summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, we expected something special. The reviewers loved it. (Admission: Moscone is Artistic Director of Cal Shakes and Taccone is Artistic Director of Berkeley Rep.)

The George Moscone/Harvey Milk/Dan White saga was in many ways the most quintessential San Francisco story of the last half of the Twentieth Century. Jon Moscone is the late mayor's son who was fourteen when his father was killed. So he has a window into this piece of history that only someone from his family could ever open. We have to say we wish he had written it, instead of directed it, and that Tony Taccone, a brilliant director himself, would have directed and not written. Because, for whatever reasons, especially in Act One, the show is in denial. It doesn't feel honest because it plays as camp. With such a historical and artistic pedigree, "Ghost Light" gives us a first hour which feels not only overacted but underwritten.

Contemporary Jonathan (Christopher Liam Moore) cannot keep a boy friend and is having trouble with Hamlet's ghost. The young Jonathan (Tyler James Myers) has been traumatized -- he walks through his scenes like a ghost himself. All the men are queens. The one woman (Robynn Rodriguez) is channeling Mary Ann Singleton and loves them all to death.

The ghost in "Ghost Light" appears to be memory. Jon Moscone's grandfather, Mayor Moscone's father, appears as both a terrifyingly fit ghost (Bill Geisslinger) who must be slain to release Jon from his clutches, and as some kind of celestial soldier (Peter Macon), in military dress uniform, whose job is to escort young Jon into his father's coffin and down into the underworld. Grandfather Moscone indeed was a prison guard at San Quentin. Though Moscone has said he never knew his grandfather, he figures in the story far more than the late Mayor.

By far, the most interesting sidelight of this story is Jon Moscone's feeling that Harvey Milk has hogged all the headlines and historical perspective from that horrendous date in 1978. George Moscone, a straight man who was willing to put his career and life on the line to advance progressive causes such as gay rights, has been largely forgotten. It is this memory of the late king, disguised as a ghost, that has haunted his son to this day.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Ghost Light" Three Stars. But if San Francisco history is your bag, you will be disappointed because this is metaphor, not reality. These are fictional characters, though they are based to a substantial degree on the director's life. There are many in-jokes about the theater and somewhat of a connection, though not completely realized, to Hamlet. The show runs two and a half hours, with one intermission, which feels like a lot, though considerably less than the four hour Hamlet.

It took courage to impugn, albeit slightly, the sainted memory of Harvey Milk. Jon Moscone and Tony Taccone have taken a risk here that they could have stepped around. Within this sentiment lies honesty. We could have used more.

"Ghost Light"
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through February 19
$14.50 - $73

No comments: