by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
On Jan. 18, 1788, a motley crew touched shore on Australia’s Botany Bay and began their melancholy task—to set up a penal colony at Port Jackson (now Sydney). Most were British convicts—often guilty of poverty-driven offenses like petty theft—and for them, exile to Australia was an alternative to imprisonment, public humiliation or death. Others were military men, haggard from a miserable defeat in a newly established America, which would no longer accept exiles from England’s overflowing jails.
Supplies—and spirits—were low. But 2nd Lt. Ralph Clark had an idea—to bolster morale (and possibly his own career) by staging a production of George Farquhar's comedic classic The Recruiting Officer, with an all-convict cast.
That’s the true-life story related in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play within a play, Our Country’s Good, a Tony-nominated BBC Play of the Year (1988) based on Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker, which comments on modern Australia’s origins and the timeless pull between clashing cultures, classes and social ideals.
Our Country's Good opens Friday, April 10. Dalton Maltz ’16 plays Clark, who has the blessings of his commanding officer, Capt. Arthur Phillip (Landen Taflinger '17), and the help of Capt. David Collins (Sarah Blocher '18), while he works to promote the convicts’ welfare. Sarah Benamati ’18 plays Maj. Robbie Ross, who, like Capt. Jemmy Campbell (Bianca LoGiurato ’17), seeks to undermine the play.
The 20-member cast also includes Theodore Xenophon ’16 as Watkin Tench, who wrote a text about the first years of the colony, and Alexander Dillon ’17 as Will Dawes, who documented the language spoken by Aborigines near Sydney. Helena Gaubiz, an overseas assistant from Germany, portrays the colony’s chaplain, and Lizzie Lucas ’15 its hangman. Noam Wegner ’15 plays a convicted thief who rails against the injustice of his false arrest, and Avery Carpenter ’15, a pickpocket who adds comic relief. Other convicts include Liz Mordant (Isabella Schlick '15), a strong-headed prostitute/pickpocket, and a gang of robbers and thieves named Dabby Bryant (Kaylee Muellerj '16), Mary Brenham (Sarah Zimmer '17), Caesar (Kiarra Osakue '18), John Arscott (Holly Kelly '15) and Duckling Smith (Eliza Flood'15).
Our Country’s Good runs April 10, 11, 13 and 14 (8 p.m., Mathers Theatre, Holland Union Building). Regular admission is $7; advance admission with student ID is $5.
Published April 9, 2015