One fateful Halloween night, in an idyllic little living room like something out of a sitcom, all is not as it seems.
This sounds like the beginning of a ghost story you’d tell at a campfire with a flashlight under your chin, but it is the basis of Jack Neary’s Trick or Treat, haunting audiences at 59E59 Theaters instead. Johnny Moynihan (Gordon Clapp) fears that his wife Nancy (Kathy Manfre) will let slip a dark family secret after witnessing her in an upsetting state due to her steadily worsening Alzheimer’s. So he tucks her into bed, gives her a kiss… and kills her. As his son Teddy (David Mason) and daughter Claire (Jenni Putney) grapple with the situation, and a nosy ex-girlfriend gets involved, the family’s carefully hidden past begins to unravel.
The show is labeled a black comedy for its flippant treatment of murder combined with snappy one-liners about (among other topics) mental clarity and Justin Bieber. However, the show plays out more like a drama or a thriller would, for how jarring it is. Make no mistake by the word choice, though – it’s a superbly written thriller, with no slumps in the suspense. It’s jarring in that its characters are explosive and intense; you never know when someone’s breaking point will be reached or their history cracked open. The quick, fiery Irish interlude music matches, if not accelerates, the show’s whistle-stop pace and the average heartbeat of any given audience.
The actors’ performances are as fascinating as their characters are exasperating. Kathy McCafferty especially shines as Hannah, Teddy’s ex-girlfriend who is relentlessly determined to uncover the family’s secrets. She’s a character you might root for in another narrative – she is technically in the moral right, after all, for her goal is to get justice for the crime that just occurred. Here, she is written as the villain: the pestering and dramatic ex who can’t let go of the past and inspires instant annoyance with her mere presence.
McCafferty, as Hannah, is excellent at being utterly hateable. She’s not alone, though; each character, and each actor, prompts contempt at some point, some more deeply than others. (Which is a compliment to all the actors’ skills.) Teddy has violent impulses, Claire can be jittery and impatient, Nancy can’t remember her children’s names (not through any fault of hers, of course), and Johnny sees himself as a merciful God figure who must fight to alleviate the suffering he believes the real God spitefully wrought upon his family. Neary brilliantly warps the quintessential American family trope by making the Moynihans quintessentially dysfunctional – if you’d use that word to describe your own family, this family will make you grateful for any amity yours has. Protagonists they may be, but they’re certainly not heroes. They’re like characters in classical Greek drama who do everything in their power to escape their fate and learn the hard way that it will catch up to them sooner or later. But they exchange just enough tender tears and genuinely funny jabs that you ask: do you really want to see them fall?
The only way to answer that question is to see the show for yourself. So grab a ticket, unwrap a Charleston Chew, and strap in for this hair-raising ride that smacks with the force of a candy bowl to the face.