Sophie Urey, Christopher Holt, Denise Poirier, Kathleen Kimball and Paul Haley in a scene from “Pack of Lies.” Steve Underwood photo

Though they may not like to admit it, people will take an occasional peek to see what the people across the street are doing. It’s when the government asks you to help it watch those same folks that things can get uncomfortable.

Hugh Whitemore’s “Pack of Lies” is based on actual events that occurred in England in the 1960s when a suburban family was asked to allow counter-intelligence agents to use their home as an outpost to conduct surveillance on their neighbors.

Portland’s Good Theater has opened an engrossing production of the 1983 play that, as director Brian P. Allen points out, has a chilling relevance to current events. With an impressive cast of local favorites on stage, the play also makes for a compelling period drama about personal bonds stretched to the breaking point.

Denise Poirier and Paul Haley play Barbara and Bob Jackson, a married couple who, along with teenage daughter Julie, are content with the modest comforts of their suburban life. Their neighbors/friends Helen and Peter Kroger, played by Kathleen Kimball and Christopher Holt, drop by occasionally to socialize. Though the Jacksons may find the Krogers, particularly Helen, a bit unusual by English standards, the casual relationship formed between the couples seems to benefit them all in one way or another.

Enter a Mr. Stewart, played by Tony Reilly, to set the slow devolution of the friendship in motion. Revealing as little as possible, Stewart nonetheless convinces the dutiful Jacksons that they must allow surveillance to be conducted from their home. Reilly’s signature baritone fittingly exudes the authority that unstoppably shrinks the Jackson’s resolve. Barbara tries the hardest to resist. She wants to believe that “people don’t stop being people just because they’ve done something wrong.”

In the central role, Poirier is moving as her Barbara tries to negotiate with herself and dispel the anguish of furthering the deceptions required of her. She finds small comfort in the understanding offered by one of the surveillance agents but is gradually reduced to an anxious mess.

Kimball embodies the ebullience of a friendly neighbor and effectively keeps the story clear of any good-guys-vs-bad-guys simplicity. Haley is a stolid Bob while Holt a nervous Peter. Both characters respond to spousal unease in similarly calming ways, if perhaps for different reasons. We learn quite a bit about these and other characters through occasional spot lit monologues addressed to the audience.

Sophie Urey adds warmth as the ingenuous daughter Julie as does Heather Elizabeth Irish as the sympathetic agent Thelma. Casey Turner rounds out the cast in her way-too-brief role as agent Sally.

The interior set, designed by Steve Underwood, places the play’s action in a seemingly safe environment that, we learn, can too easily be damaged by lies and lying.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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