O’Neill play 'Murph' heavy with familiar pol references

Catherine O'Neill: Playwright leaned on in-depth knowledge of Boston's political culture.Catherine O'Neill: Playwright leaned on in-depth knowledge of Boston's political culture.The political drama 'Murph' wrapped up its run at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre last week, with its director hinting that the play could eventually make a return to the stage.

The play, written by Dorchester's Catherine O'Neill, packs the constant drama of the Massachusetts State House into 90 minutes of fast-paced dialogue and unraveled secrets, with winks and nods for the Beacon Hill insiders in the audience.

Set under the Golden Dome and in the office of a Boston state representative a month before Bill Clinton formally assumes the presidency, the play centers on a love triangle between an Irish Catholic lawmaker and two aides who have worked with him since his first campaign. Their rhythm is thrown into disarray with the appearance of a top political operative from D.C.

References to Dorchester are sprinkled throughout the dark drama: State Rep. Kevin Murphy, played by Robert Pittella, notes that he gave his first political speech at the Dorchester Post.

His political future becomes the focal point of the play when he learns that Boston’s mayor will be appointed to an ambassadorship, mirroring Clinton’s tapping of then-Mayor Ray Flynn to be the US envoy at the Vatican. (In the real-life race that followed, City Council President Thomas Menino became acting mayor, and later won the mayoral election in a race that included Dorchester state Rep. Jim Brett as a candidate.)

Emily Kaye Lazzaro plays State House aide Katie, a brainy redhead who went to Dorchester High School and is in love with her boss. “Most of the girls I went to Dorchester High School with are happily married with litters of kids, or they are… Well, I couldn’t go to the nuns’ school,” she says at one point. “Don’t tell anyone but I’m not Catholic. Church of England. … I’m serious when I tell you in my neighborhood growing up an ax murderer would totally be better than being a Union Jack loyalist.”

The playwright, O’Neill, grew up in Lower Mills and now lives on Savin Hill. Her familiarity with the local political scene, thanks to working on several local campaigns, shines through in the play.

“I don’t get the Boston City Council,” Katie quips as they discuss the ascension of the council president to acting mayor. “The Boston City Council doesn’t get the Boston City Council,” Gary, Murphy’s other aide, cracks.

James Bocock plays Gary, and John Geoffrion rounds out the cast as Seth, the slick political operative whose bald head and snake-like demeanor recall a young James Carville, who worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

The play ran at the Playwrights’ Theater from April 13 to April 28. It was directed by Brett Marks, artistic director and founder of Argos Productions. “These characters are composites of people I’ve been in political foxholes with,” O’Neill told the Reporter last year as the play was going into production. “Nobody’s safe.”


Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter