Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Theater Review: GHOST LIGHT at Berkeley Rep

By John A. McMullen II
Sunday January 15, 2012 - 09:45:00 AM
Rep, Danforth Comins and Christopher Liam Moore (right)
Rep, Danforth Comins and Christopher Liam Moore (right)

When I first heard that Jon Moscone was the new artistic director of Cal Shakes, my brain went “Moscone? Any relation?” When I found that he was, it always set me to wondering in the way we wonder about John-John and Caroline and other scions of assassinated good-guys. 

When I heard about GHOST LIGHT, I thought Mr. Moscone had written it. When I read the program in my seat at the Berkeley Rep Thrust Stage last Friday, I found that Jon had directed it but Tony Taccone, artistic director of the Rep, had written it. I didn’t know Tony wrote. I did appreciate the play on words of the title: the “ghost light” is the stand with a bare bulb that is traditionally left to illuminate the way in a darkened theatre.  

After 35 years apprenticing by directing and consulting on new plays including Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and sending many plays to Broadway, Mr. Taccone turns out to be a very professional and deep playwright. 

The story is an excruciatingly personal one that puts Mr. Moscone’s psyche and sexuality in the spotlight as well as his Hamlet-handed fixation on his father’s death. Directing a play which lays bare one’s soul and personal life, a play written by another, must be an emotional travail. 

Many plays have used Hamlet as the metaphor, but this one seems ultimately apt given Mr. Moscone’s position and profession. The story of the play is that he is directing Hamlet and can’t get past the ghost scene. His costumer/confidant Louise confronts him with this apparent blockage since they are behind schedule. Half of the play happens in Jon’s head, or rather his dreams, in a finely tuned Freudian entourage of sires and grandsires and imagined lovers ironically appearing from the depths of his bed, right beside the Zoloft bottles with the Stoli chaser. Jon loses himself in the electronic play-land of cable TV reruns of “Golden Girls” and “Mary Tyler Moore.” He has extended email courtships to avoid the reality which always disappoints as opposed to the imaginary world one can create in one’s head or onstage.  

The influence of Kushner and “Angels” on Taccone’s writing is evident, but well used. The dialogue is witty and credible; Jon is gay, the bon mots and witty insults, while not exactly Wildean, are appropriate and very funny. His dramatic plotting of the dream world and anagnorisis—that critical discovery by a character—is masterful. We learn much about the former Mayor, particularly his political machinations to repeal laws against homosexuality.  

Casting Christopher Liam Moore in the lead was an excellent choice; he has won LA’s Ovation Award and Garland Awards, and you might recognize him from TV appearances on Friends, Third Rock from the Sun a series regular on Murder in Small Town X (Fox) and Ten Items or Less (TNT). 

It is a dense plot to which you must attend carefully, since many initial scenes are as enigmatic as dreams, but which coalesce later as dreams are interpreted and resolved.  

There are downsides: it needs a more substantial talent as the teenage Jon, and it needs an outside eye with the pair of shears since it is 2:40 with intermission. Puzzlingly, it bogs down in an all-important second act confrontation with the specter of his homophobic rounder of a grandfather who recounts the assassination. The penultimate scene at the grave is hung on to by the playwright like a love object you don’t want to let go of. But the final moments will break your heart. 

I admit to a raised eyebrow when I first heard of the play, but my prejudice was relieved half-way into the second scene. At intermission, I asked an acquaintance who attends a lot of plays what he thought, to which he replies, “Too self-referential and too self-indulgent.” Surely he is correct about the characterizations given that it is about Jon and his prolonged fixation, but —except for the over-writing--not “too” but just “self-“ enough.  



Conceived and Developed by Jonathan Moscone And Tony Taccone 

Written By Tony Taccone 

Directed By Jonathan Moscone 

A Co-Production With Oregon Shakespeare Festival 

Main Season | Thrust Stage 

January 6–February 19, 2012 

Tony Taccone, Playwright; Jonathan Moscone, Director; Todd Rosenthal, Scenic Design; Meg Neville, Costume Design; Christopher Akerlind, Lighting Design; Andre Pluess, Sound Design; Maya Ciarrocchi, Video / Projection Design; Nicole Arbusto / Joy Dickson, Casting; Amy Potozkin, Casting 

WITH: Danforth Comins, Ted Deasy, Peter Frechette, Bill Geisslinger, Isaac Kosydar, Peter Macon, Christopher Liam Moore, Tyler James Myers, Sarita Ocón, Robynn Rodriguez,