Jack Neary’s play “Trick or Treat,” presented by Northern Stage and set in a middle class home in eastern Massachusetts, has the best first act closing scene of any recent play, and it fits neatly with the thrust of the story about a mess of a family that nevertheless makes its immorality entertaining.
Gordon Clapp as Johnny, a husband and father who is deeply upset, has summoned his daughter Claire (Jenni Putney) with an emergency call. It takes Jenni a while to get him to spill why he is so unhinged. Johnny’s wife and Claire’s mother, Nancy (Kathy Manfre), has been suffering from Alzheimer’s and he reports that he has just smothered her to death.
The other family character is Teddy (David Mason), a cop, who has told his father to do the deed. There are secrets to be revealed in the course of the turbulence that erupts, none of which restores any semblance of respectability to this family.
The fly in the ointment is a curious and intrusive neighbor, Hannah (Kathy McCafferty). She has a history with Teddy. Hannah is angry that on this Halloween night Johnny cursed at her child who, as part of a group, approached his doorway for trick or treat. In the heat of his anxiety and need to get rid of diversions, Johnny yelled so harshly as to send the kid home in tears.
Hannah becomes suspicious that something has happened to Nancy. When she is told that Nancy has died suddenly, she is curious as to why 911 hasn’t been called, is assured that it has, but sees that nobody is arriving. Hannah, increasingly obstreperous, wants to call the police.
The battle to keep what Johnny did secret and passed off as a normal death erupts to the point of trying to kick Hannah out of the house, even with physical force. She is not one to go easily.
That’s all you have to know about the basic situation, which becomes amusingly explosive as the play continues. The cast is excellent, making the characters as believable as they are outrageous. Good actors can go a long way to covering up a play’s contrivances, as is sometimes the case here. Author Neary even succeeds in bringing some pathos into the nasty situation, and the cast pulls that off too.
Carol Dunne does a good job setting the right tones as matters escalate and stressing the right highlights. Scenic designer Michael Ganio has created a very lived-in looking home, with a useful staircase, and the right ambiance for all that unfolds. The play runs a crisp 90 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 646-892-7999. Reviewed January 21, 2019.