Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pack of Lies (Cesear's Forum)

‘PACK OF LIES’--interesting script, ponderous production

Hugh Whitemore’s ‘PACK OF LIES,’ now in production at Cesear’s Forum, is based on the 1961 arrest of a husband-and-wife Soviet spy team in England. (The couple were convicted and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.) The spies, Americans Peter and Helen Kroger (really Morris and Lona Cohen), appear to be a typical suburban couple, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Set in London, the play reveals the stresses placed on the up-tight and up-right Jackson family who get thrust into the middle of an investigation by the mysterious Stewart, who talks them into allowing observers to spy on their neighbors by taking up residency in the Jackson home. The family is eventually forced to chose between loyalty to their country and allegiance to their friends.

As Whitemore explains regarding the play and his motivations (and which might be applied to the 2006 United States), " addition to the themes of loyalty and deception, I became increasingly preoccupied with the role of the ordinary citizen in our society. Is it ever possible for the average, relatively powerless man or woman to make anything more than a token stand against officialdom? Is it not potentially risky to allow the state (albeit for well argued reasons) greater moral license than the individual? Or is it, perhaps, naive to expect more than an approximate degree of truthfulness from governments and their spokesmen?"

In its various productions, the play has been called “compelling,” “an exciting flash of history,” and “a real who-done-it, which evokes attention.”

Unfortunately, none of these terms can be used to identify Cesear’s production under the guidance of director Greg Cesear. The show is slow, beyond sluggish. The excitement, the humor, the twists-and-turns are lost in the plodding pace. The matter is not helped by the uncomfortable seating in Kennedy’s Down Under, where the play is being staged.

The cast varies from excellent to misguided. Julia Kolibab as Barbara Jackson, who is forced to chose between friendship and forced honor, is excellent. As the stress builds, Kolibab, has a near nervous breakdown before our eyes. Though overly deliberate, Steven Hoffman, is quite good as the husband who puts aside his loyalty to his wife to do his perceived civic duty. Jennifer Mae Hoffman is basically on-target as their teenage daughter.

Juliette Regnier, usually one of the area’s more competent actresses, seems lost in the role of the “ditsy” spy Helen. She never settles into a character. If the real Helen couldn’t act any better than Regnier, she would have been found out in an instant. Tom Jessup (Peter Kroger) never makes us believe that the character is a real person.

Paul Floriano, who I always expect to be excellent, disappoints, as he doesn’t ring true as Stewart, the spy chaser. His levels of concentration seemed to leave him at times. In several scenes with Steven Hoffman, there appeared to be line problems.

Capsule judgment: ‘PACK OF LIES’ is an interesting play that gets less than a stellar production at Cesear’s Forum.