Kathy McCafferty, Jenni Putney, Gordon Clapp



by Carole Di Tosti


Halloween is noted for masquerades, candy, parties, costume competitions. It is a rollicking time for children. Retailers especially favor it as the most profitable holiday before Christmas. At the opening of Trick or Treat written by Jack Neary, directed by Carol Dunne, the lively music and homely set decorated with pumpkins and skeletons signal the joyous, wild themes of Halloween. However, the tenor of the play is more a trick played on the audience. By the end of the production, we are soberer and wiser about how family unity can be a hazard to family safety.

Playwright Neary negotiates the action among the family members with humor, sensitivity and pathos. In a terrific, nuanced performance Gordon Clapp as Johnny, the Dad, confronts angst when he must move between giving the trick or treaters the largest candy treats in the neighborhood and relating to his daughter a horrifying experience he had with his wife Nancy. Kathy Manfre portrays Nancy with superb sensitivity and moment to moment authenticity.


Gordon Clapp, Jenni Putney


Nancy, whom we discover Johnny loves and has been married to for decades, has Alzheimer’s. Though Johnny’s adult children understand how their mom’s Alzheimer’s is progressive, Johnny is confronted with its reality on this Halloween and he behaves in the only way he knows how to ease his suffering. When he shares this with his daughter Claire (the excellent Jenni Putney) Claire is by degrees confounded and saddened.

Claire suggests they tell sibling Teddy (a dynamic performance by David Mason) what happened. When he comes over, the wild chaos is compounded as his former girlfriend and Johnny’s feuding neighbor Hannah (the vibrant Kathy McCafferty)  intrudes. She obliterates their peace and quiet and refuses to leave; we consider she may still care for Teddy.

As the craziness escalates and we believe the climax will result in one of the family being arrested, the problem appears to resolve itself. However, as the second act continues, Neary shifts the tenor and action in another plot twist and the family relationships clarify. We discover how Johnny perceives he must keep them unified, though how he effects this is untenable. We also discover the family history. Events about another sibling which Claire never understood are explained. All of this wrangling gradually and by degrees explodes in a ghoulish reveal. After all, this Halloween is different.

In the final pivot Johnny’s relationship with Nancy in its poignance and beauty portends the future for all of them. And how he may confront their future together is the “trick” on this most weird of nights where terror is not in ghost and goblins, but in very real human reactions and relationships. By the end, the skeletons have come out of the closet. How these revelations will impact the family’s unity from now on is uncertain.

Neary pings every theme about the fault lines of the human condition. One, for example, is how we lie mostly to ourselves to bury truths too painful to confront and expurgate. Neary also examines the role of “the man as head of the family,” and what that means for manly males like Johnny.

Jenni Putney, Gordon Clapp, David Mason


The production and its themes are magnificently realized by the performances of the actors, shepherded by director Carol Dunne. Gordon Clapp does a yeoman’s job in his portrayal of Johnny who experiences the misery and heartbreak of a lifetime of cover-ups on this horrific night when life, indeed, plays a gruesome trick on him and his own behaviors fly up like ghosts to haunt him.

As Nancy, Kathy Manfre’s debilitation is heartbreakingly real. We can understand why Johnny is abjectly devastated at how the Alzheimer’s has made her unrecognizable from the lovely woman she once was. Manfre’s portrayal is great!

As the adult siblings Jenni Putney and David Mason are humorous, human and tragic. And McCafferty’s Hannah in her chaotic obtrusiveness makes sense, by the conclusion. By then, all the skeletons have emerged. When Johnny gives his aria of self-justification, we know that there is no justification. There is only torment and guilt.

Trick or Treat has very fine production values and thrilling staging by the excellent Carol Dunne. Kudos to the creative team that makes Trick or Treat roar. This is a profound work with smashing performances by the cast, who raise the stakes at every moment and engage us to the end.

Photos: Heidi Bohnenkamp



Trick or Treat at 59E59 Theaters (59 East Fifty-ninth Street) runs with one intermission until 24 February. You can purchase tickets online at: