‘Pack of Lies’/ Directed by Roseann Cane/ Ghent Playhouse
REGIONAL THEATER COMPANIES tend to group themselves into loose categories. There is the Literary-Standard-Rep group; the We’re-Professional-but-Poor group; the New (Let’s-Annoy-Our-Parents) Theater Graduates; and the snobby, Of-Course-You-Won’t-Understand-Our-Plays group, among others. All are capable of wonderful and less than wonderful productions.
Ghent Playhouse usually walks a happy mid-road in their choice of repertoire: good stories by solid, unpretentious playwrights and an occasional small musical.
However, sometimes a cast of mostly excellent actors is left struggling with a mediocre play. Such it is with “Pack of Lies”.
This British play (By Hugh Whitemore, based on a real-life, cold-war situation) feels like a television drama stretched out beyond its bones, trying to become a theater piece. Only one character, Barbara (a conventional London wife/mother, played splendidly by Johnna Murray) has anywhere to go. Murray goes. She descends from mousy, self-deprecating row-housewifery to morally shredded, raging breakdown.
Mike Sanders brings his own attractive manner to the role of Barbara’s husband, a character that the playwright leaves basically the same throughout except for a final monologue. In this, Sanders is particularly simple and moving.
Cathy Lee-Visscher is vivid during the first half of the evening, oozing a life and warmth that could not be faked by a character for whom it was not real, spy or not-spy. The playwright gives her a brief scene of woozy conflict, and then leaves the actress stranded, playing a single, relentless, bewildered note for the rest of the play. (A bit of variety from director Cane might help here.)
Glenn Barrett plays a patient, spy-catching, government bureaucrat. Though cognizant of the pain he is causing to the occupants of the household who are required to betray their best friends, he is unyielding. It’s a job that must be done. The actor is effective, even though he has nowhere in the play’s structure to go–and he could do with fewer, counter-clockwise perambulations around the sofa!
As the teenage daughter of Barbara and Bob, ChristineLee Mackerer is excellent in the high-emotion scenes. Less so with more mundane dialogue.
The set by Bill Visscher and Tom Detwiler is convincingly, deliberately “row house,” with a print sofa, a too-frilly chair and ottoman, and Barbara’s bad art on the walls. A small kitchen to one side is uncomfortably small for the action staged there, and the other side is devoted to individual monologues.
A crucial monologue, nicely delivered by Paul Murphy as spy-neighbor Peter Kroger, exposes the idealism that has spurred the Americans to transmit secrets to the Soviets. (Would that playwright Whitemore had chosen to show us rather than tell us.)
Still, “Pack of Lies” is successful in exposing the moral ambiguity, the conflicting loyalties that can arise between the political and the personal. It wants Britain’s Communist spies stopped while it refuses to demonize these particular individuals as human beings. It reveals the personal cost to one innocent family as they are maneuvered into their own pack of lies and betrayals.
Lighting by Grace Fay is smooth and unobtrusive. Costumes are fine except for an ugly green satin dress. Maybe it was meant as a comment on Barbara’s general haplessness (evidenced by her non-skill as a seamstress) and her spy-friend’s graciousness in wearing it. And maybe not.
“Pack of Lies” runs through April 1. Reserve tickets at 518 392-6264, www.ghentplayhouse.org.
Also, look ahead to Ghent’s production of “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, by Jean Giraudoux, beginning May 18.