The 1978 assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk marked a grim day in San Francisco history. Gunned down by former Supervisor Dan White, the killings sparked riots.
The City eventually moved on, but Jonathan Moscone — the mayor’s then-teenage son — was left with a staggering legacy of grief and injustice.
In “Ghost Light,” which made its Bay Area premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last week, Moscone — now a noted director, and the artistic director of the California Shakespeare Theater — becomes the central character in a memory play that examines the lingering effects of the assassinations on an adult child’s psyche.
Written by Berkeley Rep’s Tony Taccone and directed by Moscone, the work is haunting, insightful and often mordantly funny.
The character Jon is presented at two crucial points — as the teen grappling with the loss of his dad, and as a gay theater artist about to direct a production of “Hamlet.”
Although he’s an aficionado of Shakespeare’s play, the production has stalled before it can begin — Jon has become obsessed with a single character, the ghost of Hamlet’s father. With rehearsals looming, he’s unable to focus on anything else, and appears on the verge of a nervous collapse.
It’s his own ghosts, of course, that are the issue, and between scenes of the adult Jon (the excellent Christopher Liam Moore) confiding in a trusty collaborator (Robynn Rodriguez as Louise), discarding an old boyfriend (Danforth Comins as Loverboy) and finding a new one (Ted Deasy as Basil) — the young Jon (Tyler James Myers) muses on death, visits a therapist and gets advice on the afterlife from an ethereal source (Peter Macon as Mister).
Also appearing are the ghosts of Jon’s father and grandfather (Bill Geisslinger, in a powerhouse double turn as Mayor Moscone and the Prison Guard).
Taccone’s cerebral script slips freely between anguished dreams, sexual advances and political discourse. At the heart of the play is Jon’s struggle to restore his father’s place in history; in one of the strongest episodes, he confronts a director (Peter Frechette) of a Milk biopic who has glibly cut the elder Moscone out of the picture.
“Ghost Light,” which made its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, still feels a bit overwrought. But it benefits in Berkeley from many of the original cast members reprising their roles. Moore is outstanding.
Sarcastic, fiercely intelligent and deeply wounded, his Jon is a riveting portrait of a man at odds with himself. When, like Hamlet, he finally claims his birthright, it’s the stuff of great theater.
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays; 7 p.m. most Wednesdays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. most Sundays; closes Feb. 19
Tickets: $14.50 to $73
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org