Robynn Rodriguez, Christopher Liam Moore, and Peter Frechette. Photo: Jenny Graham
, the second fully staged new play to come out of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “American Revolutions” commissioning series, is a perfect fit for the company. It deals with a survivor’s personal emotional fallout from a uniquely American historical event, the 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. And given that the survivor in question is Moscone’s son Jonathan, an accomplished theater director struggling with his own ambivalence in completing plans for a new staging of Hamlet
, the play’s integration into the spirit of Ashland is complete. Now in his 40s, Jonathan, played by Christopher Liam Moore, has begun seeing ghosts including those of his grandfather and that of an imaginary super-sexy boyfriend, the not at all imaginary super-sexy Danforth Comins. Jonathan’s thinking about Hamlet
is dragging up all kinds of unresolved issues about his father’s death and soon his subconscious is spilling out all over the place. Hamlet’s relationship with his father, and more specifically his father’s ghost, soon becomes an unraveling parallel to Jonathan’s own inner life.
But Ghost Light
is less thriller or history play than it is a psychological autobiography. What’s more, the play’s impact stems in part from the meta-nature of its creation. The script is credited to Tony Taccone, but there is no doubt that the real-life Jonathan Moscone, the accomplished theater director and artistic head of California Shakespeare Theater, is the author of much of the Ghost Light
’s content as well as serving as its stage director for this run in Oregon. At times, the proceedings feel incredibly invasive. But any discomfort from the autobiographical nature of the play is offset by the simple facts that the character Jonathan acknowledges it himself: The story of his father’s death has already been endlessly adapted, repeated, co-opted and distorted by the public who knew him as a famous person. Jonathan’s struggle is resolving his own emotional experience of his father against a world of perceptions about the same events that lie outside of his control. And it’s in this capacity that Ghost Light
is most successful, where it questions the boundaries between our personal and public emotional lives.
That is not to say the show in an unqualified success. The scenes in Ghost Light
proceed not unlike a therapy session. The show opens with the 14 year-old Jonathan sitting in just such a session answering questions from an unseen therapist. Bits of dreams stand alongside more narrative sequences often with little differentiation. Todd Rosenthal’s set provides suggestions of Jonathan’s apartment and boyhood room spread out around a replica of the façade of San Francisco City Hall. A number of the scenes include the son’s younger self interacting with a character simply called “Mister” going on about emotional abstractions that I found rather difficult to follow. This therapy process journal approach to play writing can muddle things at times and one long’s for the more narrative bits where we learn more about Jonathan in the world and his relationship with his friend Louise, played by Robynn Rodriguez. (Her straight talking performance here is as strong as her turn as Barbara in Letts’ August: Osage County
which she is also giving this season.) But muddled or no, Ghost Light
is a good second showing for OSF's "American Revolutions" series with its twist on the history play, making it about the personal story and not the events themselves. It runs through the end of the season on November 5.
Labels: Oregon Shakespeare Festival