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Theatre and Dance Alum Returns to Direct Campus Production of ‘June Moon’

Vi Flaten and Jack Mikesell rehearse a dance moment in the play "June Moon." Photos: Jim Carmody

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy may get girl in the end? The plot is simple. But the real story behind “June Moon,” the next offering from the UC San Diego department of theatre and dance, is about the quest for love and the price of fame, according to director Jonathan Silverstein.

Silverstein, this year’s Quinn Martin Endowed Chair in Directing and an alumnus of the department’s Masters of Fine Arts program, cannot say enough about the excitement he has for this production of “June Moon,” which begins previews Feb. 22 and runs through March 3 in the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre.

June Moon

Alumnus director Jonathan Silverstein works with Vi Flaten (Edna) during a dress rehearsal for the UC San Diego Theatre and Dance production of "June Moon."

“There is a lot of joy in this play,” Silverstein said. “It’s a very American play about the striving for love and fame, and even though it’s very satirical, and even a bit dark, it has an optimistic spirit in it that is very American to me.”

A comedy with music, “June Moon,” was co-written by George Kaufman, one of America’s most successful playwrights, and famed humorist and journalist Ring Lardner, during Broadway’s golden years between the two world wars. The play charts the path of aspiring lyricist Fred Stevens on his way to make it big in New York, seduced by the songwriting wonders of Tin Pan Alley. On the train into the city, he meets Edna, a gal with a heart of gold. But the promise of success with a down-and-out songwriter, Paul, and his glamorous relative, Eileen, deters Fred from the woman who really loves him. Only when Fred discovers Eileen’s secret that he realizes where his true heart and home really are.

“I hope audiences take away the fact that this play is not so far from them,” Silverstein said. “It’s almost a100 years old, but the roots of comedy in the play are so prevalent in our culture that audiences will recognize the archetypes they see on stage.”

June Moon

Alumnus director Jonathan Silverstein and MFA student Jack Mikesell (Fred) during a dress rehearsal for the UC San Diego Theatre and Dance production of "June Moon."

Returning to UC San Diego, after graduating from the MFA program a decade ago, has been “surreal and humbling,” said Silverstein. “I’m in the same person, but my perspective has changed a lot. It’s really interesting seeing the students struggle with the same things I struggled with 10 years ago, and realizing that 10 years later you’re going to be struggling with a whole different set of challenges.”

For Silverstein, grad school feels like “worlds away in experience.” And yet “it feels like I just left a couple of months ago and feels odd not to see my classmates roaming.”

He has enjoyed his experience of coming back the university and showing current MFA students the perspective of a performing artist working in the field.

Since graduation, Silverstein has been working full time as a professional theater director, mostly in New York City in various Off-Broadway theaters, as well as regional theaters across the country. His production of the world premiere of “The Temperamentals” by Jon Marans garnered a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble, and San Diego audiences may have seen his production of Ayub Khan-Din’s “Rafta, Rafta” at the Old Globe in Spring 2011.

June Moon

Vi Flaten and Jack Mikesell rehearse a dance moment in the play "June Moon."

For Silverstein, working with MFA Jack Mikesell, the lead actor in “June Moon,” on the evolution of the lead character Fred has also been enlightening. Mikesell grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho, and his own experience of moving to the “big city” has helped immensely in the character development of Fred.

“I hope that the audience is moved by Fred,” Silverstein said. “He falls in love in the very first scene. And as he goes on his quest for fame, he gets farther and farther away from what his true personality is and has to reconnect with that truth throughout the course of the play, and I think that is a moving and true experience that we all share as human beings.”

Advance tickets for this production are available online through the department’s website at or through the box office Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m., by calling 858-534-4574. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for UC San Diego affiliates and seniors, and $10 for UC San Diego students.