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Trick or Treat

The plot that unfolds is full of reversals and shocking developments that keep tricking you into thinking that you know what’s going on, and treating you to some characters who don’t.

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Jenni Putney, Gordon Clapp and David Mason in a scene from Jack Neary’s “Trick or Treat” (Photo credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

The lit pumpkin on a ledge in the living room aptly suits the title of Trick or Treat, a new play by Jack Neary. But despite the skeleton positioned on yet another shelf, the play’s title refers to more than just Halloween, as the plot that unfolds is full of reversals and shocking developments that keep tricking you into thinking that you know what’s going on, and treating you to some characters who don’t. It isn’t until the very end that you apprehend a story you thought you were following all along. There are startling surprises all along the way.

To add that the tale involves two different murders isn’t revealing too much, since at least one of them is divulged at the very beginning. That’s when Johnny Moynihan calls his daughter Claire and asks her to come over. He has a hard time explaining, at first, that he killed her mother–who was only 64, but had Alzheimer’s–a couple hours ago, and he tries to plead his innocence by regularly referring to Kevorkian, the euthanasia enthusiast. What to do, but call Claire’s brother Teddy, who is a cop that’s about to become a police chief, like his paternal grandfather was. Poor Johnny never transcended to anything more than traffic cop.

In the meantime, Teddy’s ex, Hannah, pops in and refuses to leave for quite a while, despite everyone asking her, “Why are you here?” Well, the outsider to the Moynihan clan is there as a playwright’s convenient way of filling in a lot of complex exposition.

As smart and carefully constructed as Trick or Treat is, the play gives new meaning to any notion of contrivance. Indeed, long before we meet Teddy, we’re prepared that he has quite a “temper,” and it’s his temper that the story ultimately hinges on, going back to when he was a little boy. He also demonstrates that temper early on, shortly after Teddy arrives and pushes Hannah on the steps. As Hannah responds, “This is a family of animals,” prompting Johnny to lunge at her and growl like one.

Kathy McCafferty, Jenni Putney and Gordon Clapp in a scene from Jack Neary’s “Trick or Treat” (Photo credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp)

As designed with realistic perfection by Michael Ganio, the Moynihans’ living room features a stack of old LP’s, an afghan blanket on the sofa, an organ, an uncompleted jigsaw puzzle on a table, and a stairwell that consumes much of the space. The play is also directed by Carol Dunne with a velocity that somehow compensates for the contrivances, making it all seem real. Realistic too are all of the performers, with Gordon Clapp excelling as a sometimes mumbling and bumbling Johnny; but then, Johnny is hiding more than one secret from most of the rest of the characters, as well as from us. Jenni Putney is equally natural as the baffled Claire, and then there’s David Mason’s menacing Teddy. Mason is suitably frightening with his every move.

Kathy McCafferty is a saucy and savvy Hannah, with red hair and a green sweater leaving no doubt that she, too, is Irish. Without revealing who her character is, Kathy Manfre is a plaintive Nancy, who doesn’t appear until the end of Act I. In the second act, she has constantly shaking, palsied hands, and asks, “Do I still have Alzheimer’s?” And then there are all the offstage trick-or-treaters who keep on interrupting the action, especially in the beginning, via the sound effects of Ben Montmagny, giving the disembodied voices some real heft and, there’s that word again, some realism.

Ganio’s costumes are as natural as one would expect, and Tyler M. Perry’s lighting design is always on target, illuminating a play that has been designed in every particular, begging the question, where exactly are the surprises. It’s well written, but ultimately far too pat to be convincing.

Trick or Treat (through February 24, 2019)

Northern Stage

Theater A at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 646-892-7999 or visit

Running time: one hour and 40 minutes including one intermission

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David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (123 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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