This outdoor production of Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker takes us to a New South Wales penal colony in the 1980’s where a group of Royal Marines and convicts come together to stage a production of The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar convinced that art and theatre could inspire and restore the human spirit, a British lieutenant, Ralph Clark (Nick Sholley), plans to present a stage play featuring a cast of misfits and illiterate prisoners when he meets opposition from his fellow officers.
This show is based on true events and characters right out of Australia’s past. The playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker did careful research into historic documents, ship’s log and journals to make the play historically accurate. It is right after the conclusion of the American Revolution. Actors wear clothing appropriate to the time with military officers in red coats and convicts dressed in their cloth shirts and dresses that appear to be sewn together from rags.
Our Country’s Good is absorbing theatre. Broadly, the play is about the triumph of the human spirit against the force of oppression and the metaphor for that is theatre itself offered as educative, restorative and ultimately cathartic. It is not only the convicts with no more dignity than caged animals who achieve humanization through the staging of a play, but many of the King’s officers become touched and awakened by the spirits of those they have tried to subordinate.
Wertenbaker draws her characters vividly with humor and compassion, and the cast, most doubling roles, fervently bring them to life. Ann Brebner and Tara Blau direct their ensemble with skill, and all are outstanding, but particularly notable are: Michael Barr in the duel role of Captain David Collins and the convict, Sideway, who went on to establish Australia’s first theatre company; Ron Wood (also in a duel role) as the liberal-thinking governor of the colony, Captain Arthur Phillip and the thoughtful convict writer, Catch; Nick Sholley’s decent, and innocent Lieutenant Clark, the director of the proposed play; LeAnne Rumbel’s wonderfully hostile and supercilious Liz insisting that Mary (Natalie Palan Walker) do her lines first; and Shannon Veon Kase as the spirited Dabby Bryant.
It is a real treat to have Porchlight Theatre back in town. Porchlight Theatre Company, based in Marin County, California is an award-winning theatre company established in 1999 by Tara Blau and Molly Noble. Porchlight Theatre’s production of Our Country’s Good was itself an enactment of one of the play’s own central observations; theatre transforms.
Our Country’s Good plays at Porchlight Theatre, August 16-September 8, 2012. Performances are held at Redwood Amphitheatre, Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. For tickets, call 415-251-1027 or go online at www.porchlight.net.
Flora Lynn Isaacson