Our Country’s Good
By Timberlake Wertenbaker
Directed by Kate Ingram
Starring Matthew Buckalew, Logan Ayala, and Brian Wiegand
It seems overkill to ship pickpockets and petty break-in artists half way around the world for punishment, but that the way the Brits rolled in 1787. The London prisons were overflowing, and it seemed reasonable (as things always do at the time) that packing this lot off to the dry, hard scrabble land down under might reform them. Better yet, they will provide a future flow of tax revenue and colonial profits to the motherland. In order to break up the cycle of work, attempted escape, and execution, Lieutenant Clark (Brian Wiegand) attempts to produce a play called “The Recruiting Officer” using the prison laborers. Immediately a debate breaks out as to the morality of theater and will a production be “uplifting,” or will it only serve to mock the authority? We still debate this today. Personally, I vote for “make fun of the stuffed shirts.”
Most actors play multiple roles, and occasionally we see the costume changes on stage. Mr. Wiegand argues impassionedly for his project and he has the support of thoughtful Captain Phillips (Buckalew) who also serves as a prisoner. The actors in the “play with in a play” seem uninterested; it’s hard to get up much gumption for rehearsal when you’re to be hung after opening night. like the sullen Duckling Smith (Victoria Eve Capdeville) is a good example; she prefers death to opening night as the critics were brutal back then. I also enjoyed Meg Long as the woman of questionable morals and an even more questionable nickname.
This show is large and filled with large personalities. A troop of local Aboriginals wander thought the set, debating whether what they see is real or a dream until small pox convinces them of their reality. The officers argue vehemently over the worth of theater, and if it should even be allowed. On one hand it brings people together as they struggle through the “process.” But it also disrupts by questioning authority and points up its double standards of class and privilege. Here the internal script is minimal; it’s a pre-Victorian romantic romp about who gets which girl and which estate that shows a British officer in less than flattering light. Rather than correct the sinner, the diehards wish to paper over them. We wrestle with how to build a society out of this motley bunch, or even if such a goal may be achieved.