By LAURA HUMBLE – STAFF WRITER
DramaCentre’s production of Our Country’s Good, directed by Patrick Kagan-Moore, was an interesting mix of witty comedy and poignant insights on humanity. The play follows the struggles of a group of eighteenth-century British convicts transported to the colony of Australia and their attempt to put on a play. They are faced with personal problems among themselves and the outward interference by the Royal Marines. It highlights the themes of injustice and the importance of art in culture.
The cast, though small, was mighty, as the acting was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the production. The actors were charismatic and natural, working with one another flawlessly. The cast included familiar faces to the Centre stage, such as seniors Andrew Stairs and Martha Grace Burkey, as well as newcomers, such as first-year Chris Lockhart and sophomore Seth Gray. All seemed willing and eager to put on an excellent show. Gray, a first time actor who played Captain Jimmy Campbell, knew the production was going to be a success, if a little startling. “I know it’s going to be great. But it’s a hardcore play. If people don’t have the [right] attitude, they’ll think, ‘Wow, that’s kind of crazy… that’s not what I was expecting,” Gray said.
And he was right. The play opened with strong language and lewd imagery, and was pervaded with scenes of violence and intense suffering throughout. Though the dialogue was punctured with comic relief, the intense scenes really helped to drive home the play’s main message of combatting injustice through art. The convicts find solace in putting on a play, thus escaping from the harsh realities of the world in which they live and becoming better individuals.
Our Country’s Good seemed to be well received by the audience, who cheered and applauded warmly after Thursday night’s performance. The crew used light projections on the back wall not only to serve as a backdrop to the action, but also to convey mood. Dark, mysterious projections would be used for more intense scenes, while lighter and more playful projections were used for more comical scenes.
It was clear that a lot of effort went into this production. “The production period lasted about nine weeks,” chair of the Dramatic Arts program and scenic designer Matthew Hallock said. “In that time, twelve actors and a crew of stage managers rehearsed the play six days a week. The production shops worked creating the scenery, costumes, and props. The sound designer and composer created what we hear. The lighting designer and his crew equipped the theatre with the different lighting fixtures, circuited them, and programmed them into over 100 separately designed cues. Additionally, we have folks working on publicity and outreach, graphic design, and various other arts administration tasks. Most of these people are students. So it is a heavy lift, but it’s fun work—most of the time,” Hallock said.
The stage was innovative and well-crafted with doors in the floor that opened to reveal new props, including hidden benches and a mud pit. Along the back wall were costume stands where some costumes were placed when not in use, which seemed to add to the ‘play within a play’ aspect of the production. Many characters changed costumes right onstage.
The costumes, designed by Martha Peñaranda, and makeup, designed by senior Chelsea Faist, were both phenomenal. The coat worn by Captain Arthur Phillip, played by Stairs, was nothing short of beautiful. The muddy, dirty convicts contrasted with the sharply dressed Royal Marines to further add realism in the play.
Our Country’s Good was a wonderful production serving as both escapist fun and a means to teach a moral lesson. It was a production not to be missed.