“Our Country’s Good” is set in 1788 in the penal colony that became Australia. It is an adaptation of “The Playmaker” by Australian author Thomas Keneally.
The stark landscape lacks the lush green and gentle rains of England’s countryside.
Food rations are scarce.
The prisoners’ lives before were as harsh as the environment they now find themselves in. A woman tells of her father giving her over to police for a thievery he committed.
Women had turned to whoring as the only way to survive and along the way lost their sense of possibilities for true affections.
For the most part their guards are seemingly cut from the same coarse cloth. More, they seem to revel in sadistic excesses such as whipping prisoners to near death.
The gentleman Governor and commander is a man who thinks that all reform and redemption are possible. He enlists a lieutenant with theater interests to engage the prisoners in putting on a play to help cultivate what Lincoln would refer to as “their better Angels”.
This play within the play is meant to show us that art can humanize. The show must go on and does—despite a lead being condemned to a punishment of death, the lover of another being taken by a fever, and the non-stop cruelties of the lower level officers to the prisoners.
There are many touches by director Roger Smart that brilliantly underline the “there but for fortune” set up of the play. In the shadows between scene changes we see prisoner characters transform themselves into soldiers and commanders through donning uniforms in stylized costume change rituals where you seem to see their backs straighten as they assume the more upper class character. The starkness of the set by director and scenic designer Roger Smart helps convey how convict and guard alike are both prisoners of a punishing terrain hungrily awaiting supply ships that don’t arrive.
This is a much celebrated script—winning Olivier awards in England and Tony-nominated here for playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker.
Fair warning though-- this is relatively verbal and cerebral fare. The point of the script that arts and theater in particular is a humanizing and elevating force is asserted more than demonstrated by the story. We know from the start that this point is being set up and nearly the entirely script is the very verbal unfolding of that set up.
Shattered Globe is producing this play to help make a timely statement about the importance of theater and the arts, especially now when public and private funding are so difficult to acquire. The acting gives the script full service--across the board the actors hit the right notes.
If you want to see this much celebrated play the run continues through February 22, 2014
Presented at Theater Wit
1229 West Belmont Avenue, Chicago
For tickets call 773 975 8150 or visit the Shattered Globe website
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Photos: Michael Brosilow