Our Country's Good

As staged by UT, this drama of convicts making theatre in colonial Australia is fascinating to watch

Shanaya Kapai as Mary Brenham and Cameron Mellin as 2nd Lt. Ralph Clark
Shanaya Kapai as Mary Brenham and Cameron Mellin as 2nd Lt. Ralph Clark (Photo courtesy of Daniel Cavazos)

Our Country's Good

Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, 300 E. 23rd, UT campus, 512/477-6060
Through Oct. 27
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.

On the surface, Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good tells a story about a group of convicts from the British Isles who have been shipped to Australia in the late 1700s. Many of the criminals have found themselves in this awful situation after conviction for petty crimes like pickpocketing or prostitution. One of the junior officers stationed there decides to direct a group of them in a play, mostly to earn favor with the liberal-minded governor of the penal colony, who, unlike most of the officers, considers that rehabilitation might be possible, although for him it's mainly a philosophical notion. Keep in mind this is an era in which 50 lashes is considered a merciful verdict and hangings are commonplace.

By itself, the story is clever, but where it becomes intriguing is how the play explores not only the conflicts inherent in colonialism but also how community is formed. The transformation that the convict-actors and their director 2nd Lt. Ralph Clark (Cameron Mellin) experience is more complex than just the cliched poor-kids-teach-their-coach-a-valuable-lesson model. As supplies in the colony dwindle, prisoners are sentenced to die for stealing a biscuit, and nobody knows yet how to eke a living from the harsh Australian land, the convicts rehearse and learn lines. Gradually, thoughts of a future here creep in on the overwhelming longings for home.

With characters hailing from wildly different regions and classes, not to mention three different continents, this University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance production features notable dialect work. A nod of respect to dialect coach Everett Lunning, whose behind-the-scenes work with the actors has resulted in a huge variety of dialects with few slips, if any, in performance.

In fact, the dialect work is representative of the quality of the performances overall. Our Country's Good features 20 solid actors. While one could spend words here picking at moments or details, the overall show thrives on the work of the cast under the direction of James Daniels. Scene after scene is engaging and fascinating to watch, even when events in the story are hard to take in. Smart design contributions from Mercedes O'Bannion (costumes) and James Ogden (scenery) also help the production succeed.

Our Country's Good presents enough logistical and artistic challenges to a company that productions are not terribly common. Interested audiences should seize the chance to see the play done well here in Austin, with a great cast and strong direction.

More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
<i>Woman in Black</i> at Scottish Rite Theater
Woman in Black at Scottish Rite Theater
Skilled actors and atmospheric design combine to make this co-production a spine-tingler ideal for Halloween

Shanon Weaver, Oct. 20, 2017

Zach Theatre's <i>Singin' in the Rain</i>
Zach Theatre's Singin' in the Rain
This stage take on the silver-screen musical really comes alive when it breaks free of the familiar film's grip

Robert Faires, Oct. 20, 2017

More by Elizabeth Cobbe
Paper Chairs’ <i>Catalina de Erauso</i>
Paper Chairs’ Catalina de Erauso
Elizabeth Doss’ latest plays with history in a way that serves its feminist hero, and it’s also a comedy that knows its stuff

Sept. 22, 2017

Vortex Repertory Company's <i>Storm Still</i>
Vortex Repertory Company's Storm Still
Gabrielle Reisman's script refashions King Lear into the daughters' story, and the Vortex stages it with admirable heart

Sept. 15, 2017


Our Country's Good, Austin theatre, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, James Daniels, Ev Lunning, Mercedes O'Bannion, James Ogden, Cameron Mellin

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)