“Our Country’s Good” Examines Rehabilitation Through Artistic Performance
Can theatre transcend destiny and distance? Can it save the moral soul of whores, thieves and adulterers? A couple of Royal Marines on the penal colony of New South Wales thought it might be worth a try. At least, that’s the story told in Shattered Globe’s premier of the six-time Tony Award-wining play “Our Country’s Good,” which is itself an adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s novel, “The Playmaker.”
When the British decided the best place for their country’s riff raff to serve out their prison terms was on the far side of Australia, the unruliness of the mob on the island begins to concern a few of the officers. When Governor Arthur Phillip (Drew Shad) asks if the other marines believe the public hangings to be any deterrent from future indiscretions, Captain Watkin Tench (Arch Harmon) replies to the contrary that they are, in fact, the convicts favorite form of entertainment.
Phillip wonders if a more civil form of entertainment is just what the criminals needs and considers the idea of having the convicts form a theatre troupe. While he dismisses the idea, 2nd Lt. Ralph Clark ( Steve Pebbles) decides to move forward with it and begins casting for a prisoner production of “The Recruiting Officer.”
With direction from Roger Smart, an inspiring set, an appropriate background score and talented cast, “Our Country’s Good” delivers an acceptable adaptation of an intriguing play.
The play examines the idea of rehabilitation through imprisonment, as well as the idea that those who commit crimes of opportunity or sell their bodies often have few other choices.
Sending pickpockets penniless to an island without enough food or provisions to survive is hardly an ideal way to prevent them continuing the practice. And while the convicts may have no money to pay the prostitutes, the women learn quickly that giving their bodies to the officers can provide some comforts and humanity that others are neglected.
Watching TV one night I did stumble upon one of the many reality shows that takes in an American prison. Most of the episode centered on the usual topics of unruly prisoners, the mental anguish of solitary confinement and the stress of being guard in a maximum security institution. However, a small portion of the program was devoted to a group of prisoners who were in a theatre class at the prison. They put on a production of Macbeth and all were moved an empowered by the chance to be someone else, in another time, if only for a moment.
Without spoiling the impact of the momentary release the prisoners in “Our Country’s Good” receive from acting out their roles, I’ll say it’s a form a rehabilitation that may require deeper consideration.
I found the production to be a little long and at times convoluted. The ensemble cast members, while strong in their main roles, were spread a little thin as nearly all played multiple characters. At times the accents, while perhaps authentic, were difficult to understand. I even heard one man at intermission remark, “yeah, I can hear them. I just can’t understand what they’re saying.”
However, “Our Country’s Good” is a decent show by the group that recently put on one of my favorite productions of 2013, “Other People’s Money.” While I preferred that latter, the former is still worth a trip to Theatre Wit at 1229 W. Belmont.
The production runs now through Feb. 22 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30 and available at the Theatre Wit box office, online at www.shatteredglobe.org or by calling (773) 975-8150. Runtime is two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.