'Our Country's Good' recruits convicts for a chance at redemption

Posted August 21, 2018

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By Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times | August 21, 2018

The floor of the Touchstone Theatre is covered what looks like sand, a reddish, grainy surface that sprays when the actors stomp. They can shape it, drawing paths and outlining shapes, but nothing stays.

Like being sentenced to imprisonment thousands of miles across the sea, it looks permanent yet changeable, fundamentally out of their control.

In Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good,” running on American Players Theatre’s indoor Touchstone stage through Oct. 7, a first group of prisoners and officers land on what will later become Sydney, Australia.

Under the leadership of a literary-minded officer, the convicts endeavor to stage a play: “The Recruiting Officer,” a 1706 George Farquhar comedy also running at APT through Sept. 29. 

A play is a small thing, yet among the convicts it’s revolutionary. The officers don’t like it (“The prisoners are here to be punished and we’re here to make sure they get punished.”)

The prisoners fight amongst themselves, some with the constant threat of hanging.

All the while an aboriginal character watches, believing at first the boat that brought the quarreling English was “a dream which has lost its way.”

Ameenah Kaplan, making her directorial debut at APT with this exceptional production, pulls the tension taut then lets it go. She leads a uniformly strong, well-balanced ensemble cast, each actor (with one exception) playing two or more characters.

In an early scene, the performers don the coats of officers, pacing and lounging about the stage in a subtle demonstration of power that looks different on each of them. On Takeshi Kata’s open and malleable set, red-stained ombre curtains billow from the back of the stage like the sails on a tall ship, then pull aside to suggest the sides of a tent.

 Read the full review here.