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Ghost Light

Tony Taccone's deeply moving new play concerns the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and the effect it had upon his youngest son.

Christopher Liam Moore and Bill Geisslinger
in Ghost Light
(© Jenny Graham)
The assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in 1978 has often been overshadowed by the murder of openly gay politician Harvey Milk on the same day, and by the same man, Dan White. This has been a source of ironic frustration for Moscone's gay son, Jonathan Moscone, who has conceived and directed the deeply moving new play, Ghost Light, written by Tony Taccone and now receiving its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Inspired by the life of Moscone's youngest son, but taking a fantastical approach to the subject matter, the play follows Jon (Christopher Liam Moore), who struggles with his unresolved feelings about his father while directing a production of Hamlet. As his colleagues Louise (Robynn Rodriguez) and Austin (Peter Frechette) try to pin him down on costume and set design concepts, Jon keeps putting them off, insisting that his way into the play is through the scenes involving the ghost of Hamlet's father.

Ghosts are also haunting Jon's own dreams, taking the form of a sinister-seeming prison guard (Bill Geisslinger), who has a surprising connection to the Moscone family. In addition, there are flashbacks to when Jon was a boy (played by Tyler James Myers), which take on a surreal quality with the arrival of a mysterious man going by the name of Mister (Derrick Lee Weeden).

Taccone's script interweaves these real and imagined narrative threads with pointed and insightful commentary on the contemporary political landscape (particularly in regards to gay rights), as well as a useful analysis of some key scenes in Hamlet. There's a good balance between humor and drama, with certain moments packing such a powerful punch that they are likely to reduce audience members to tears.

Moore's performance is full of emotional shades and complexity that enhance the production. His Jon is neurotic and witty, employing both characteristics as a defense mechanism to push people away, even as they're some of his most endearing qualities.

Rodriguez also delivers a fine performance as Louise, who is alternately exasperated and concerned about Jon's wellbeing. Geisslinger has a commanding presence that is riveting and unsettling in his primary role of the prison guard, and he is equally impressive when he comes back later as a different character. Frechette is likewise strong in multiple roles, principally as a film director who Jon thought was going to redress the historical imbalance in the way Mayor Moscone's death has been recorded, but who ends up once again focusing almost exclusively on Harvey Milk.

The metaphor of haunting within the play extends to Todd Rosenthal's scenic design, which incorporates the façade of San Francisco's City Hall, where Mayor Moscone was killed, into a set that primarily serves as Jon's apartment. Meg Neville's costumes are also effective, particularly for the 1970s-set scenes, which nicely establish the period without going overboard.

Those expecting a more traditional biographical treatment of George Moscone may be surprised by the turns this script takes as it chronicles a son's attempt to connect back to his famous father. But it's unlikely that they will be disappointed, as the production is so well-realized, and serves as both a fitting tribute to the former Mayor of San Francisco and a more universalized meditation on loss.


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