A theater director wrestles history and Hamlet in Ghost Light, and this time it's personal
It's suggested more than once in the dialogue that all of these characters stalking his sleep (and often arriving onstage through the portal of Jon's bed, pitch atop the shiny black granite steps of City Hall) are merely the dreamer himself in various disguises and aspects. This much, of course, we are already primed to assume. In fact, the fundamental problem facing the main character — namely, his inability to properly let go of his own grief and suffering around the death of his father, which appears here as an inability to let his own father's "perturbed spirit" rest at last — is equally a condition readily recognizable to a modern audience in a therapeutic age. It may be grounds to build on in terms of character development, but the lack of mystery here also undercuts any suspense in the plot, as the increasingly blurred line between Jon's dreaming and waking lives points toward nervous collapse and the threat of some self-inflicted disaster (personified by the foul-mouthed, homophobic, and gun-toting prison guard stalking his unconscious).
Taccone makes a valiant attempt to draw together a complicated and wrenchingly personal yet all-too-public story with a set of interrelated subplots and quick-moving dialogue (filled with as much quippy humor and menace as pathos). But the results are uneven. Although Geisslinger makes a serviceable villain, the danger he represents never feels palpable. Likewise, the underworld subplot involving boyhood Jon (played a little too typically "boyishly" by Myers to be readily believed) comes across as vague and treacly.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the more realistic, down-to-earth scenes that play best and are most evocative. The intricacy of a life divided painfully between public and private personas, public and private pain and loyalties too, comes across best when the character of Jon is operating in the "real" world. To this end, Moscone the director shrewdly brings the audience in at key points as well, raising the houselights for an acting master class led by his onstage character. Meta-theater, town hall meeting, group therapy — the lines begin to blur here in a lively, resonant discussion of "acting" as social action.
Another interesting scene takes place in a bar, where Jon finally meets Basil (Ted Deasy), the man with whom he's been having an online fling for weeks (and the inspiration for the Loverboy of his increasingly intrusive dream world). The awkwardness, defensiveness, and barely contained rage revealed here — as Jon discovers that Basil's own fantasy projection incorporates his public familial tragedy — speak more eloquently to the messy particulars of the main character's dilemma then perhaps any other scene in the play.
In the end, the thematic aptness of the mise-en-scène — which forces Jon, for instance, to open the front doors of City Hall just to retrieve a beer from the fridge — speaks also to the monumental task this play has set itself. If the results prove very mixed, they are all the more discomfiting because the root story is so fascinating, the dramatic project itself audacious and strange, and the insight to be potentially gleaned so tantalizing — speaking to our collective intersections with history in the deepest recesses of the psyche.
Through Feb. 19
Tues., Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat. and Feb. 16, 2 p.m.); Wed. and Sun., 7 p.m. (also Sun., 2 p.m.), $14.50-$73
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison, Berk.