It’s Halloween. Johnny Moynahan (Gordon Clapp) has telephoned his thirty-something daughter, Claire (Jenni Putney), in panicky tears. Between dismissal of trick-or-treaters, he anxiously awaits her arrival. Upstairs, wife Nancy (Kathy Manfre), who suffers galloping dementia, lies in bed. Except for an intermittent visiting nurse, Johnny cares for her alone.
The Irish Catholic patriarch has lived in his working class, suburban Boston house since birth. Tradition and heritage literally rule his life. Here second generation Moynahans raised their children, housewife Claire and her police officer brother, Teddy (David Mason). Daughter Sharon is deceased. The siblings live nearby with their own spouses and children. They’re not close.
Jenni Putney and Gordon Clapp
Claire presumes her mother has taken a turn and is once again proffering hospital brochures when her agitated father launches into that afternoon’s example of just how far Nancy has regressed. He’s agonized. “It was one of them mercy killings…” What?! (This is not as revealing as it sounds.) They need to get Teddy involved. “Maybe we could use the cop thing to our advantage,” Johnny suggests ricocheting between dread and rationale.
Before the family can address its crisis, Teddy’s ex-girlfriend, Hannah (Kathy McCafferty) bursts in angry at the way Claire has inadvertently dealt with her costumed child. Teddy follows on her heels. To say the two are horrified to see one another is putting it mildly. Half neighborly and half angry about her own private Moynahan trauma, Hannah prods until she senses something untoward is going on. Lies are ad-libed all around. Still, no matter what the family does, they can’t get rid of her.
As falsehood and omission are exposed, we learn that Teddy and his father are bound by a decade long secret deeply affecting their lives. The tangled relationship, coerced by heritage, motivates – everything.
How grievous does an event have to be to condone a malignant family secret? When does protection become destructive? Define emotional blackmail.
Kathy McCafferty, Jenni Putney, Gordon Clapp
Playwright Jack Neary has skillfully crafted a jigsaw puzzle of a play slowly forming a portrait of family wreckage. Stealth with which he leaks information building to a pin-balling second act is marvelous. Dark humor threads through with finesse. The intricately drawn character of Johnny Moynahan alone is worth admission. (Only Claire lacks definition.) Trick or Treat is a helluva ride.
Direction by Carol Dunne is excellent. Johnny’s mercurial mood swings are as engaging as they are visceral. Outbursts erupt with a whoosh! Timing is Machiavellian. Nancy’s softly drumming on her folded pillow is inspired. The way the family physically skirts one another works wonderfully. Caveats: It’s generally inadvisable to let one actor use a regional accent the others can’t come close to replicating. Hannah needs more stage business to color insistence.
Those of you familiar with Gordon Clapp (Johnny) only from NYPD Blue (not his excellent run in Glengarry Glen Ross) are about to be shaken up. The man can ACT. He owns his misguided character. Kinetic changes in speech and physical reaction embody panic, defense, justification, anger, pain, and fear. As Johnny is fleshed out, everything we’ve witnessed falls into appalling place. Clapp vibrates with presence and turmoil.
David Mason palpably restrains Teddy’s epic temper – until he doesn’t. Brutality is shocking. The performer shows us overt consciousness of size and strength. His silence is never empty. Words rise from gut emotion.
Kathy Manfre’s Nancy drifts beautifully between trapped animal and innocent, lost child. Every move seems fragile. As Hannah, Kathy McCafferty is so infuriating, one wants to take to the stage and forcibly eject her.
Scenic Design is move-in ready – evocative and specifically detailed. Love the house beams. (Michael Gainno) Costumes fit characters like second skin. (Allison Crutchfield)
Fight Director Paul West creates sudden, breathtaking violence of graceless credibility.
Photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp
Opening: David Mason and Gordon Clapp
Northern Stage presents
Trick or Treat by Jack Neary
Directed by Carol Dunne
Through February 24, 2019