Ghost Light by Tony Taccone, conceived and developed by Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone, Directed by Jonathan Moscone. Oregon Shakespeare Festival through 5 November.
Let me be quite clear: this one landed with on wrong foot with me, and were I the type of theater-goer that would cast away my seat at the intermission in exchange for some serious drinking, I would have done so. And it is fortunate I am not nourishing my nascent alcoholism, for the play redeems itself admirably in its close and forgives all manner of sins in the process.
And yes, I say this knowing this to an autobiographical play, being the story of the son of the assassinated Mayor Moscone, conceived and directed by said son. It takes large brass ones to go up against this, and for that reason I think I will choose to do so from the safety of Seattle as opposed to in the heart of Ashland itself.
But first, let me pull out my longest of daggers for the New Theater for this particular performance. Chill to the point of coldness, the intermission brought many of those with poor circulations to the lobby just to warm up. And let me bash upon the set design: The theatre in the round was closed off on one side for a backdrop, but as a result but as a result any action far in the back of that part of the stage was lost to patrons with blocked line of sight. That means that you can't stage important stuff there, and anything placed there has to be considered optional, even if it helps with the story.
Ah, but the story. Jon Moscone is a director who in the present is still dealing (or not dealing) with the loss of his father. He is directing Hamlet and obsessing over the roll of the Ghost of Hamlet's Father. Yes, it is all quite clear it is all tied up together. And the Shakespearean play works well contrasting with the modern play (as opposed to Richard III mentioned earlier).
Here's your history lesson, which the play assumes you have but, modern memory being what it is, you might not remember you remember. Mayor George Moscone was shot by former Supervisor Dan White in 1978. After shooting Moscone, Dan White then shot Supervisor Harvey Milk. Ah, him you've heard of - he got a movie with Sean Penn. And that's part of the problem, among many, for the younger Moscone.
The play runs scattershot through history, memory, and internal pyschodrama, expecting you to keep up as they go along. Boom you're in the past with the young Moscone in therapy. Boom you're inside Moscone's head as the various drives and ids are all trying to communicate. Boom you're in the modern real world in Jon's apartment. Boom the lights are up and you are part of a theater class working on, yeah, Hamlet.
It bounces about like a pinball, and about the halfway point, I realize where I have seen this before - Roy Schieder in All That Jazz. At intermission I told the Lovely Bride that if someone starts singing "Bye, Bye Love", I was out of here.
And you know what - they DO bring the final catharsis in with a song, and they PULL IT OFF. I'm impressed, because I don't know at what point the pieces finally fit, but I started caring about Jon and his need to come to terms with his father's death.
Christopher Liam Moore plays Jon as flighty, nervous, selfish, and in many points unlikeable, a meltdown waiting to happen. Tyler James Myers as the younger self was more problematic - pokey and hard to modulate in his actions. It could be direction or just the actor (the dangers of young actors), but when he seems more comfortable with the script, the play took that leap forward. Bill Geisslinger as a threatening part of Jon's psyche gets the advantage of being part of a tormented soul, as does Derrick Leed Weeden, who comes off as Carl Sagan with the God's microphone (Am I looking at the ego and the superego here, or are there other facets they are embodying?). Robynn Rodriquez exists in the real world (well, as real as a character in a play gets) as the voice of relative reason trying to get Jon to deal with the whole Hamlet's Ghost thing and getting to the rest of the damned play.
It resolves. It resolves neatly and cleanly and without cheating. The fragments of the psyche take on enough reality by the end of the play that you are really pulling for them, that you want Jon to make his breakthrough not because Jon is a wonderful person (the character isn't), but because all the stuff beneath the surface deserves to succeed. It is an internal intervention, and it works. But yes, color me surprised that it does.
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