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Turning on the Ghost Light

Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone discuss the creation of their acclaimed new play. logo
Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone
(© Kevin Berne)
On November 27, 1978, San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were gunned down by fellow Supervisor Dan White, an event that not only shocked the Bay Area, but stunned the world. That horrible day has been replayed on film, most notably in the Oscar-winning Milk, and has provided the inspiration for the new play Ghost Light, now at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre following an earlier run at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

"I knew there were as many people who didn't like my father as did like him," recalled Moscone's son, Jonathan, at a recent press event for the show. "We had occasional threats at home, bomb threats, but none of them were real. We would get stopped in the street, and people would yell at my dad, and my dad would yell right back at them."

Jonathan, who was 14 years old at the time of his father's death and had never spoken about it, came to Berkeley Repertory Theatre artistic director Tony Taccone a few years ago to help him craft a play. "He wanted to investigate fathers and sons, and what had happened with him, and just the nature of his experience," says Taccone. "So we'd start talking. I'd start interviewing him, and he'd drift into the past, drift into the present, and drift into the future."

Ghost Light -- which features a script by Taccone and direction by Moscone -- follows a fictionalized version of Jonathan, now the artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater, as he struggles to direct and find a concept for a production of Hamlet. While dealing with the ghosts surrounding Shakespeare's play, he also finds himself contending with the ghosts of his own past, and his father's memory. "The hope was that everything we ended up with on stage was true, in that it sourced on something emotionally genuine and psychologically accurate," said Moscone.

One of Taccone's main goals in writing Ghost Light was to make the play a universal story. "I tried to use the fabric and the tapestry of history to investigate an imagined reality, and to make sure that somebody who didn't know a thing about George Moscone could still come and enjoy the play," he said.

That said, Taccone also felt it important to remind the world of George Moscone's legacy. "George promoted the civil rights of everybody, and he did that through putting Harvey [Milk] on the Board of Appeals, and opening up the doors of City Hall to people who had never been invited in," said Taccone. "It's the air that we breathe right now in San Francisco."

The play's title has a double meaning: ghost lights are the lamps that are lit and left on stage in darkened theaters for safety purposes -- or to ward off ghostly spirits or, some believe, to keep them company. And, as Taccone pointed out: "The ghosts in this play are shedding light on the conscious life of the main character and the other characters in the play."

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