May 3, 1990 PALISADIAN-POST Page 15
True story translates well in 'Pack of Lies’
It was a day just like any other, predictable in its routine, benign in its aspect - until a phone call irrevocably changed the direction of Bob and Barbara Jackson's life.
In British playwright Hugh Whitemore’s marvelous '‘Pack of Lies,'' based on a true story and receiving a splendid staging at Theatre Palisades, the audience suspects the outcome of the phone call as soon as Bob Jackson (Lloyd Peterson) hangs up the phone. He announces to his wife Barbara (Marta Kristen) and his daughter Julie (Tricia Kelly) that a Mr. Stewart (Stephen Mendel) is coming by to talk to them. All they know is that he is '‘with the government."
When Stewart shows up, it becomes clear to the Jacksons that he knows all about them - as well he should. Stewart works for MI5, the British equivalent of the CIA. The problem, he tells them, is that a man, a mysterious man who is suspected of espionage, has been known to frequent the neighborhood. Could M15 impose on the Jacksons for "just a few days'' so an agent could watch for the man's appearance?
The Jacksons agree, loyal as they are to their government and possible infractions of the “Official Secrets Act," which Stewart carefully explains to them. But “a few days" soon turns into a few weeks, and as the investigation drags on, the Jacksons realize that along with the mysterious man, the focus of the investigation is Helen (Cissy Wellman) and Peter Kroger (Paul Seibel), their best friends who live across the street. All three are suspected of passing secret information to the KGB.
Although the political poignance of "Pack of' Lies" has been somewhat diluted by the welcome thaw in the cold war, the moral poignance of the Jacksons dilemma remains hot. To whom are you most loyal, your government or your friends? And when the mutual trust that has been the basis of your friendship is called into question by a complete stranger, who do you believe?
"Pack of Lies" drops these questions directly into the lap of the audience and leaves them there long after the final curtain. We think about them on the way home. We discuss them at dinner. And we continue to wonder, what would we do?
Director Mike Macready has extracted excellent performances from a fine ensemble of actors, including Alice Champlin and Rosemarie Lagunas who portray additional MI5 agents. Each per former is a standout as he or she seamlessly recreates the anguish and paranoia written into Whitemore's script. Kudos also go to Paul Seibel's terrific set design. Our only quibble is with a running crew which often slows the pace between scenes. Continuity is crucial in sustaining the drama of “Pack of Lies," and it should not be held hostage to a crew that is unable to remove dishes from the kitchen table with dispatch. But this is just a minor problem in one of Theatre Palisades' finest productions.