Entertainment » Theatre

Murph

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Apr 26, 2012
’Murph’ continues through April 28 at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
’Murph’ continues through April 28 at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre  

In the waning days of Bush I, two political staffers--Katie and Gary--weigh their ambitions and their loyalty to their boss, Rep. Murphy (or "Murph," as they call him) a member of the Massachusetts state legislature, against the personal costs of helping Murph gain a decidedly more powerful political office: Mayor of Boston. The most jarring sign of their changing political fortunes is the presence of a political consultant named Seth, a James Carville-style operative whose savvy and sharp eyes miss nothing...not even their most personal secrets.

Those secrets, the complications and deceptions they entail, and their place in a complex calculus of politics, is what Catherine M. O'Neill's incisive and funny new play, "Murph," is all about. The general situation (President-elect Bill Clinton is planning to offer an ambassadorship to the city's current mayor; that, in turn, will trigger a scramble for his office; a political dark horse suddenly has a shining opportunity) echoes that of Mayor Mennino's ascent to his long-standing stewardship of Boston, but the play's particulars, and its characters, are fictional.

The play does a credible job of laying out the landscape in which players jockey for power, but the real fire here lies with the personal politics of friendship. Katie (Emily Kaye Lazzaro) has a not so secret crush on Murph; meantime, Gary (James Bocock) is in love with Katie. Gary and Katie could not be more different (she's immaculately put together and organized, no matter what day of the year it might be or what's going on around her; he's a slob and something of a drunk, but he's also, usually, the smartest guy in the room), which makes the prospect of a romance between them seem remote. But that's fine, because what really draws them together is Murph (Robert Pitella), whom they both love and who, being an innately political creature, both engages their affection and holds it at arm's length.

Seth (John Geoffrion) is the catalyst that brings everything in their office to a boil. Unorthodox financial maneuvers, personal foibles, and forbidden romances all come to light under Seth's laser-like probing; the fault lines in the tidy little triangle start to split asunder. Seth's objective seems clear in that it's obvious if he can confront these three people with the worst that their opponents will be able to dredge up and throw in their faces, then he will be able to forge them into an unstoppable force come the next election day. The question is whether the team can avoid disintegrating under the barrage of Seth's hard-nosed tactics.

But even Seth harbors a deep, dark secret: One that is bound to shatter lives and upend careers. In the shell game of politics, nothing is quite the way it seems, and no one is just where you think they are in terms of personal affiliation. O'Neill's script stays on top of those shifting sands with assurance, and the cast is uniformly nimble at presenting, then peeling away, the layers of each character in turn.

Director Brett Marks helps the play's intelligence (and that of his cast) to dazzle; set designer Matthew Whiton creates a specific place and time; the lighting and sound, by Michael Clark Wonson and Ariana Goterch, establish and the mood and then nudge it along through a spectrum of emotional tones. Comedy, drama, tragedy, it's all here. This staging, by Argos Productions, is the play's premiere, but my vote is to see it become a staple in the theater community here and across the land.

"Murph" continues through April 28 at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, in Boston. Tickets cost $15, general admission, and can be obtained online at web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/912651

Remaining show times are 7:30 p.m. on the 26th, 27th, and 28th.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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