South Pasadena Theatre Workshop is back with a stellar production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s phenomenal 1988 play, “Our Country’s Good”, about the redemptive power of theatre as a group of convicts in a penal colony in 1780’s Australia are tasked with staging a classic play. SPTW is housed in a lovely black box theatre and the Clay Wilcox set design is innovative in its simplicity. The actors sit on the perimeter of the stage for much of the action, changing clothes, hats, and props at the hooks and shelves on the walls. It’s all very theatrical and we, the audience, are invited to play.
Captain Arthur Phillip has brought a fleet of convicts and Royal Marines to construct a penal colony in Australia because the prisons in England were overrun. People were convicted for the merest of crimes, like stealing bread, and were considered irredeemable. Phillip begins to challenge these ideas and believes the convicts could benefit from being exposed to culture. He enlists a 2nd Lieutenant, Ralph Clark, to direct a restoration comedy, “The Recruiting Officer”, hoping to give the convicts something productive and creative to do and perhaps the possibility of redemption.
Director Sally Smythe has gathered an extraordinary ensemble of actors who work seamlessly together with the majority playing dual roles of convicts in the play and the officers guarding them. With a change of accent, costume piece and demeanor, the actors render themselves almost unrecognizable in their dual portrayals. One change in particular, I won’t give away, had me fooled until the final bows.
Sam Cass as the 2nd Lieutenant is really the heart of the show as we see him grow from someone ambitious about his own career to one who discovers a compassion for his fellow human beings as well as a passion for one of his convict/actresses. Cass is charming as the earnest Lieutenant allowing the audience to be seduced by the cast just as he is. Tavis L. Baker makes for a vicious Major who opposes the play and attempts to thwart their efforts. Patrick Brooker is memorable as the tortured midshipman hopelessly in love with “Duckling” (Danny Brown), one of the prostitutes. Pat Towne provides some of the heartiest laughs in the show as the fantastically over-acting, wannabe thespian, Sideway, while exuding authority and grace as Captain Phillip.
Esdras Toussaint is powerful as an indigenous tribesman and Smythe makes use of him as a kind of mystical, Puck-like character who is observing and foretelling at the same time. Michaela Ivey is a central figure as the feral, thieving Liz Morden. She’s been given a role in the play and we slowly see her new identity crystallize through her performance, giving her purpose and a voice for the first time. It is most powerfully drawn through her character but we see the transformation of the entire company as they reclaim their humanity through art. The tremendously talented ensemble is rounded out by Robert Cesario, Kila Packett, Schuyler Mastain, Grace Hawthorn, Daisy Donahue, and understudy Joey Major.
Like a lotus flower in full bloom growing through mud, beauty and laughter is created in the most dire of circumstances, and “Our Country’s Good” is a stirring tale that poignantly illustrates the power of the creative spirit.
Performances take place at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop through June 26. Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 5pm. Special performance June 8th at 8pm. SPTW is located at 1507 El Centro St, South Pasadena, CA 91030. Tickets currently priced $25 – $35 and are available online or at the door, paid with cash or check (made payable to South Pasadena Theatre Workshop). Look for Pay What You Will performances coming soon!
Masks and proof of vaccination required for entry.
The play contains mature language and themes authentic to the time period in which the play takes place. Not recommended for children under the age of 13.