Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Pack of Lies
It takes place in 1960-61 and is based on a real situation called the "Portland Spy Ring" (Portland is the name of a naval base in England). Whitemore uses the real names of everybody except the Jacksons, probably because the case was well known in Britain and within the memory of most of his audience. He does not fictionalize or alter the historical events, so I would suggest not looking anything up until after you have seen the play. That way, you can have fun guessing how it's going to turn out.
In any case, the plot is not what Whitemore is primarily concerned with here. He must have known that his audiences would already know the ending. The play is really about the effect on the Jacksons, and the wrenching decisions that Mrs. Jackson has to make.
The play is quite British, not only in its setting, but also in its verbosity. It's one of those single-set pieces in which people come in and out and talk a lot. The director, Joann Danella, has already abridged the play, but I think it would have benefited from another 10 minutes or so of trimming. It has the makings of a good suspense thriller, but sometimes, instead of being on the edge of my seat, I was thinking why don't they just get on with things.
Still, I did not find it boring at all, because the production is very good, thanks to the acting and directing, and an excellent set by Bob Byers and costumes and props by Judy Buehler. The best reason to see the show is the tour-de-force central performance by Bridget Dunne as Barbara Jackson. You can read every bit of exasperation, doubt and anguish in her face and hands, but she never overdoes it, as a proper middle-class Englishwoman would not.
Teenager Sage Hughes is excellent as her daughter, having no trouble with the English accent. Pete Alden is solid as Mr. Jackson, the fairly ineffectual husband. Ray Orley has played British characters so many times and so well that I thought until recently that he was from the UK. He's totally credible as the Scotland Yard man, and by his facial expressions, he kept me guessing until the very end how duplicitous the character might be.
Teresa Kizziah sweeps in like a force of nature every time she makes an entrance, and she perfectly captures the raucous vivacity of a North American compared to a sober Brit. Michael Girlamo as her husband is good, too, not as extroverted, but he's not supposed to be. No wonder the Jacksons are so fond of these ex-pat neighbors: They're probably the only real sign of life in this sleepy London suburb.
Joann Danella is smart enough not to have directed this like an American play, with rapid-fire dialogue out of fear that the audience might get restless. She lets its Britishness determine the timing. The characters have to take their time discussing things before they get to the point. Yet the play builds gradually (a little too gradually at times, but that's Whitemore's fault, not Danella's) to a quite devastating climax. Congratulations to Bridget Dunne and the rest of the cast for pulling it off so well.
Pack of Lies, a play by Hugh Whitemore, is being performed at the Adobe Theater through February 2, 2014. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Info at adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222.