BY JOHN BONAZZO
Any play that includes the line “He’s deader than a Puritan bedroom” would get points for originality if nothing else. Thankfully, My Personal Hell, student playwright Jonathan O’Neill’s latest smash, perfectly mixes comedy and mystery for a great night of theater.
The play centers on Tucker Tomkins, a photojournalist in the town of Carraway Falls who is killed while investigating a lead about Mayor Erica Rosenthal’s having an affair. To get out of purgatory, he must solve his own murder. Possible suspects include Tucker’s girlfriend Annie Eichmann, Mayor Rosenthal, her husband Howard and local district attorney Mike Gannon. The two detectives on the case are also under suspicion, and one of Tucker’s fellow journalists is snooping around as well. All the major players converge in interesting ways as Tucker attempts to escape his personal hell.
O’Neill, whose works have been performed both on campus and in the Strawberry One Act Festival in Manhattan, is an astutely brilliant writer. His script makes reference to everything from Fordham’s recent mumps outbreak and admissions scandals to Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, and the references never feel forced. He keeps the audience involved in the action, paying attention not only to the intricate plot but also the verbal fireworks onstage.
As a director, O’Neill keeps every actor onstage throughout the whole show, heightening the intimacy of his tightly plotted show. He makes sure the action is manic and tense in perfectly equal measure. His set is relatively simple, with only a couple of panels on the Blackbox stage, but this allows the audience to use their imaginations and also keeps the focus on action rather than technical tricks.
A.J. Golio is a sympathetic lead as Tucker, showing the audience subtle hints of his anguish before finally letting loose in a second act monologue. Shannon Morrall is tender as Annie, showing her love for Tucker along with the pull from other romantic interests. Nora Geraghty and Michael Guariglia are hilarious as the acid-tongued mayor and her henpecked husband, respectively, fighting over everything from Chinese food to their love life. Devin Chowske is a riot as the district attorney, who routinely lets his rage boil over; he also gets the play’s ironic final line. Mikey Brown gets laughs as the “good cop” who is new on the scene and has to learn about ethics, and James Flanagan plays the grizzled “bad cop” with charismatic menace. Joe Gallagher is effective as Tucker’s fellow, principled reporter; sadly his quest for the truth is only met with pain. The entire ensemble exudes the same energy and vibrancy as the leads.
My Personal Hell is a heavenly way to begin Fordham’s spring theatre season. If you like shows that make you laugh and think, make sure to see the production this weekend.