BWW Review: The Insidious Spiral of Deceit: PACK OF LIES at the Good
The tautly paced, compactly plotted 1983 psychological spy thriller, PACK OF LIES by Hugh Whitemore, proves to be a cliff hanger for audiences at the Good Theater, where its recent revival, expertly directed by Brian P. Allen with a finely tuned ensemble cast, demonstrates the relevance of its message in the chaotic political context in which we currently live.
Using the backdrop of the Cold War, Whitemore's drama examines the moral and political implications of dogma which leads to lies, betrayal of friendship, and the inescapable destructiveness that accompanies deceit, no matter the motive for lying. But PACK OF LIES also explores the human dimension of secrecy and untruthfulness and the way in which the smallest complicity with untruth can lead to dire and devastating consequences. Whitemore's characters are compellingly drawn, especially in the contrasting pair of couples, the Jacksons and Krogers, whose flawed friendship forms the heart of the story and the posses the most serious moral questions. The playwright employs a restrained, slowly paced narrative that sometimes becomes maddening in its tension, but always underscores the very real - almost banal - nature of the Jackson family's lives and how they unwillingly become caught up in a drama that engulfs them.
Allen maintains the pace skillfully and helps the cast create this quotidian world slowly turned on its head. Steve Underwood's attractive 1960s period scenic design for the Jacksons' suburban British home manages to convey artfully the multiple rooms in this modest home in one unit set, with Jared Mongeau's retro props and Iain Odlin's cozy lighting completing the look. Justin Cote creates plain little suburban outfits for the cast, reinforcing the sense of the ordinary. Underwood's sound design, which uses snatches of dissonant classical music, provides eerie transitions among the scenes. Stage Manager Michael Lynch anchors the production with Technical Director Craig Robinson coordinating.
The eight-member cast works as a cohesive unit, finding the right middle class British tone (and accents). Paul Haley gives a gentle, modest account of Bob Jackson, caught up in a spy sting and torn between his sense of duty and patriotism and his concern for his wife. Denise Poirier turns in a strong, subtle performance as Barbara Jackson, who slowly unravels under the strain of events and the moral decisions she is forced to make. Christopher Holt as Peter Kroger and Kathleen Kimball as his wife Helen, contrast effectively in their feigned exuberance and outgoing natures - so much so that when they get their brief moments in Act 2 to share with the audience their own backstory, there is real poignancy. Tony Reilly gives a colorful account of Mr. Stewart, the inspector handling the case - imposing, cajoling, wily, ruthless and yet oddly compassionate. As his employees, Heather Elizabeth Irish as Thelma and Casey Turner as Sally flesh out their portraits of these working class women, giving them both toughness and tenderness. Sophie Urey completes the cast convincingly as Julie Jackson.
In its modestly plotted narrative PACK OF LIES, nonetheless, keeps the audience riveted. With each revelation or small turn of events, the audience becomes more and more invested in the outcome of the story, more and more conflicted about the relationships of the characters, and more and more engulfed by the overwhelming web of lies which ultimately destroys so many lives in this drama. Despite its period setting, PACK OF LIES is a sobering and cautionary tale for the current age.
Photos courtesy of the Good Theater, Steve Underwood, photographer
PACK OF LIES runs from February 12 - March 8, 2020, at the Good Theater, 76 Congress Street, Portland, ME 207- 835-0895 www.goodtheater.com