NYC premiere of melodrama by Jack Neary with Tony nominee Gordon Clapp
By: Patrick Christiano
January 22, 2019: Jack Neary’s Halloween melodrama, Trick or Treat, produced by Northern Stage, opened at 59E59 Theaters for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 24. Gordon Clapp, a Tony nominee for Glengarry Glen Ross, and an Emmy winner for NYPD Blue, plays Johnny Moynihan, a husband coping with his wife Nancy’s early onset Alzheimer disease. The stress from dealing with her illness creates an unusual dilemma for Johnny that will put in motion a series of events that feels more trick than treat.
The play set in the couple’s home in the suburbs of Massachusetts on Halloween begins nicely enough, indeed the set by Michael Ganio is an excellent depiction of a comfortable two-story middle-class home. The Moynihan family is known for their big candy treats on Halloween, and Johnny is dispensing them to the trick or treaters at their front door, but something is not right with him. Johnny is having a breakdown or an anxiety attack and has called his daughter Claire, played by Jenni Putney, for support.
When Claire arrives, she asks him questions about why he was crying on the phone and about her mother Nancy, who is upstairs. After stalling for a bit and saying he wasn’t crying, Johnny finally confesses that after an unusually disturbing incident with Nancy, he killed her.
Claire’s brother Teddy, a tough cop that is about to be appointed chief of police, played by David Mason, is on his way, because Claire’s husband, we learn, has informed him something was not right in the Moynihan home. However, before he arrives, a nosey neighbor Hannah, played by Kathy McCafferty, shows up at the front door and pushes her way in.
That Johnny and Claire couldn’t get rid of her seems difficult to believe, especially considering the dynamics of the text at this moment. And this is where the credibility of the play begins to stain in both structure and performance. Mr. Neary needs Hannah’s presence to put in motion a zany series of events meant to skew the family in crisis.
Hannah, we learn, is one of Teddy’s former girlfriends and she still harbors resentments. Johnny has struggled to keep the family together and protect their image, but there are many buried secrets from his struggle that will emerge. The revelations tumble out with a manic intensity that not only feels distasteful, but also defies a level of truth that is necessary to keep us engaged.
Under Carol Dunne’s madcap direction, the cast puts the pedal to the metal by delivering the manic mayhem the script demands without an iota of nuance, damn the obstacles, and full speed ahead.
While Mr. Neary is to be commended for bringing attention to a serious topic that is becoming epidemic today, early onset Alzheimer disease and the challenges to caregivers, his play doesn’t know if it wants to be a thriller, a dark comedy or a melodrama about a dysfunctional family. Mr. Neary tries to be a little of each and his attempts to shed light on this delicate subject are often more offensive than funny or enlightening. The one-dimensional characters may display amusing qualities, but they stretch credibility, so we disengage from the action, which descends rapidly into a muddled mess.
Trick or Treat Performances are Tuesday – Friday at 7 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 7 PM; and Sunday at 2 PM at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison). Single tickets are $25 – $70 ($25 – $49 for 59E59 Members). For tickets call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or visit www.59e59.org. T
Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes including intermission.
January 12 – February 24, 2019
Photography: Heidi Bohnenkamp