Review by Alan Jozwiak of Our Country’s Good: CCM Acting
This is a dream which has lost its way. Best to leave it alone.
These lines, spoken by an Australian Aborigine (Jabari Carter) on seeing the arrival of the first British ship coming to the shores of Australia, beautifully sums up the helplessness and hopefulness that is contained within Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play about the founding of Australia, Our Country’s Good.
Our Country’s Good is the winter Mainstage offering of CCM Acting and the play tells what happens when a group of convicts, forced to found Australia’s first penal colony, are invited to put on a staged production of George Farquhar’s comedy The Recruiting Officer. Added into the mix of events are objections of the play by several of the officers, dwindling resources of food, in-fighting by different convicts, and the imprisonment of some of them who are accused of aiding in the escape of their fellow prisoners.
The drama off the stage is just as great as the convicts put on the stage.
Kudos should go to director Susan Felder. She has a unique genius of clarifying relationships and highlighting character story arcs. In Our Country’s Good, Felder skillfully works with her actors to construct a play that effectively moves swiftly from scene to scene while juggling twenty-plus characters without confusion. This is a pretty mean feat since this is the only production of this play that I’ve seen that has been able to do this.
The secret to Felder’s success is that she holds in equal measure the horror of the convict’s situation while keeping the lightness and levity also found within the play. Our Country’s Good has plenty of laugh lines and Felder is able to make the humor sparkle and shine throughout.
This is a play where practically the entire cast delivered strong performances, so it is going to be hard to single out for discussion all the strengths of the actors. Since this is an academic production, I will focus my comments on some of the graduating seniors who were in the cast.
James Egbert did an outstanding job with the role of Harry Brewer, the British midshipman who saves a young woman Duckling (Kayla Temshiv) from the gallows by adding her to the list of those bound for Australia. Egbert delivers a believable performance and is able to deliver the wide range of emotions that Harry Brewer faces over the course of the play.
Carter LaCava was incredibly funny as Robert Sideway, the London pickpocket whose pretentiousness and over-the-top pomposity was delightful to watch. I particularly enjoyed his exaggerated mannerisms and exalted airs while rehearsing. They were the perfect fit for the character.
Madeleine Page-Schmit was great as the convict Mary Brenham. Page-Schmit walked a nice line falling between subdued innocence and sassy worldliness. She also had some wonderful laugh lines and solid moments of pathos throughout the play.
She worked well with her fellow convict and friend Dabby Bryant, played by Jacqueline Daaleman. Daaleman did a wondrous job with Dabby, making the character into a sassy forward woman who was willing to look out for her friend Mary Brenham as she is willing to fight for women she distrusts, like Liz Morden, played brilliantly by Abby Palen.
In the final analysis, this was a strong production that delivers some wonderful performances, along with plenty of laughs, thoughtful commentary on theatre and life, and life-and-death drama. It forced me to re-evaluate this play and I think it should be a must-see for the serious theatre fan. For more information on this and other CCM performances, go to the CCM website for the show for more information: https://ccm.uc.edu/.