Audience Review: PACK OF LIES at The Drama Group

by Patricia Bradford

A play called PACK OF LIES and it’s a story about spies. The premise is set up right from the start, and explained further in the program – this is not a tale of intrigue and adventure so much as the personal impact it has on everyone involved. The magnitude (we may be foreign agents masquerading as kindly neighbors) or simplicity (I did accept that ride on a motorbike) of a lie can leave a lasting impact, or none at all. Director Noel Hanley concentrates on the human reactions to show us the far reaching consequences of a lie.

All the action takes place in the Jackson household, a modest, conservatively decorated dwelling that provides a shift in settings and never distracts. Bob Jackson (Don Gimpel) and Barbara Jackson (Donna McFadden) are solid, hard working British citizens and parents to Julie (Lilia Mitchell), going about their daily concerns. Boisterous neighbor Helen Kroeger (Janet Wasser) is a welcome visitor, as is her more practical minded husband Peter Kroeger (Tom Boland). The group establishes that there is a comfortable rapport between them, that begins to dissolve once Mr. Stewart (Andrew Maksymowych) arrives. A suspicious character has been spotted at the Kroeger residence, he says, and the government needs the Jackson’s help to maintain surveillance on them. Agents Thelma (Claire Golden Drake) and Sally (Donna Bencivengo) will be present in the Jackson’s home, working in shifts until they have some answers.

With the plot in motion, the lies begin to pile up and take their toll. Gimpel’s Bob is clearly uncomfortable with the situation. You can see the wheels turning as he struggles to do what be believes is the right thing though it pains him to watch his wife suffer. McFadden is the heart of this production and watching her unravel and hold her emotions in check knowing that she is participating in a hurt is gut wrenching. Lilia Mitchell portrays a very natural Julie, unaware of much of what is going on around her. Her affection for the other characters rings true, as does her anguish when she realizes she has been duped. Maksymowych is the lawful neutral fulcrum in this tale, intentionally detached from the emotions churning around him. He is aware of the upset he is causing, yet is almost cheerful at times as he in only really invested in the outcome of the surveillance. Although they share the same job, the two agents react very differently. Bencivengo’s Sally is the cool professional, doing her job without forming a relationship with the Jacksons. Thelma is the opposite, warm, interested in the Jacksons, and personable where Sally is all business. Golden Drake’s body language and pinched expressions when she is unable to be honest with Barbara are a physical expression of the discomfort of living a lie.

And then there are the Kroegers. Are they the unwitting hosts of a dangerous person, or are they active participants? The Jacksons can’t imagine that they are anything other than what they seem: Helen is a generous good hearted scatterbrain and Peter is her devoted but more serious spouse, right? Wasser is a bit overenthusiastic at times. However as the story unfolded, it was unclear if this was perhaps part of Helen’s created persona, meant to distract. In a monologue to the audience, Peter’s involvement is explained. Boland is especially strong when Peter discusses a turning point in his past. The pilot light goes on behind his eyes and the determination of the decision he has made settles on to his face.

At the play’s completion, the matter of who may or may not have been spying is revealed, as is the aftermath. One who can make peace with a lie will likely carry on undamaged. For others, a lie told, supported, or inflicted can be devastating. The one criticism I would offer is the range of accents presented. No problem for the North Americans, but not all British characters were equally adept with their accents.

The Drama Group, First United Methodist Church, 6001 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia PA 19144 Tickets available at the door. All showtimes at 8pm, runs through April 1st.

The Drama Group

Review submitted by:
Anne Lannak

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