Jonathan Moscone, left, and Tony Taccone at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival… (Jim Craven )
Reporting from San Francisco -- Jonathan Moscone had been building toward this moment for nearly 30 years.
His father, Mayor George R. Moscone, was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978, by former Supervisor Dan White, who sneaked into San Francisco City Hall with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson and fired four bullets at the mayor — two into his torso and two into his head.
On this winter day in 2008, Moscone is on the set of an Oscar-winning film about that tragic moment. The movie is "Milk," the story of White's other victim: Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California and the man who reduced George Moscone to a footnote.
Actor Victor Garber plays the mayor, and he fluffs a line while the younger Moscone watches. Garber stops, apologizes to director Gus Van Sant and prepares to start over.
"Gus Van Sant said, 'Don't worry about it,'" Moscone recalled recently. " 'It's just going to be in a montage.' And he just looked at me."
That was the moment "Ghost Light" was born, a play about grief and loss, memory and pain, about how Moscone dealt with his father's death — and how he didn't. Co-created with Tony Taccone, artistic director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the play premiered this month at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and travels to Berkeley in January.
In the years since White took aim, Milk has become a gay rights icon. He served just 11 months in elected office, but he's been the subject of an opera, two movies and a children's book. Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. California celebrates Harvey Milk Day on May 22.
Even White, who committed suicide after being released from prison, got a theater production, "Execution of Justice," which was turned into a movie. And George Moscone? A convention center, a park and a handful of buildings bear his name.
Now, finally, he too has a play. "Ghost Light" is not a docudrama, and Moscone insists it is not a means to burnish his father's legacy, which he believes has been overshadowed.
"When the movie 'Milk' was being made," Moscone said, "I watched the filming, and I just got to thinking that the one power that I have in this world is that I'm a paid professional in the art of storytelling … and I thought, 'Well, I can make a play.'"
Its creation, he writes in the program notes, "has helped me claim my identity as an adult, as an artist and as a citizen of this world."
Not long after "Milk" was done filming, Moscone invited Taccone out for a drink.
The now-46-year-old had interned at Taccone's Berkeley Rep in 1989, between college and a graduate degree in directing from the Yale School of Drama. He'd been artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater in nearby Orinda since 2000.
But despite their nearly 20-year friendship — and the fact that Taccone had commissioned "Execution of Justice" — they had never spoken about George Moscone's death.
So there they were at a now-defunct Berkeley bar, Taccone nursing a vodka and cranberry, Moscone drinking Ketel One on the rocks. "I want to do a piece about my dad," Moscone told Taccone.
"And he started talking," Taccone recalled. "The first thing he said to me was, 'I was in therapy for being freaked out that my father would be killed — before my father was killed.'"
The two men began meeting at Taccone's Emeryville loft, talking for hours from opposing sofas. Taccone asked questions and took notes. Moscone tried to remember.
Their first topic was the viewing.
Jon, being 14, didn't have a suit, so his mother sent him with a family friend to shop. He came back with a beige herringbone number — picked, he said, because the fabric looked like the sofa in his father's den. "Looked like a man's suit," Taccone typed into his laptop. "I didn't want to be a man."
At the viewing, Moscone recalled, he looked into his father's open casket and saw that a flap of skin had fallen away from a bullet wound. He reached in and tried to fix it.
"Head of George Moscone, put back together," Taccone typed. "Just below the right ear, a piece of skin had flapped up a little bit … he put down his finger … Not freaked out about the body."
Taccone shaped that recollection and the many that followed into "Ghost Light," a complex meditation filled with accurate historical facts in a fictional frame.
Main character Jon Moscone (the real Jon calls him "me-ish") is directing a production of "Hamlet" (never happened) and struggling with how to portray the ghost of Hamlet's father, who has been assassinated. The problem: Moscone had never thoroughly grieved after the killing of his own father.
When Taccone completed an early draft, Moscone told him to send it to him. Taccone did. Then he waited. Called. Waited. After two weeks, Moscone picked up the phone.
Moscone: "I haven't read it."
Moscone: "I'm terrified."