BWW Review: OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD from Strawberry Theatre Workshop - A Bit Long but Worth the Wait
In Timberlake Wertenbaker's play "Our Country's Good", currently being offered from Strawberry Theatre Workshop, they say theatergoers should have three things. They should pay attention. How could you not with some of these incredible performances happening from the ensemble? They should be able to use their imaginations. Yes, you will need that as the ensemble of 11 play 22 roles, but with their commitment to their characters, it's not difficult to see who's speaking. And they should have patience. This is where I felt I faltered a bit last night. The show, which clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes including the intermission, drags on a bit at times, especially in Act One as things are getting set up.
The premise is simple, the characters are not. It's the 1780's and we're at one of the first penal colonies from the UK in Australia. The Governor of the colony, Captain Arthur Phillip (Galen Joseph Osier) is at odds with his soldiers as to whether their job in the colony is punishment of the prisoners or rehabilitation. Enter Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Miguel Castellano) who believes in the humanizing force of theater and proposes to use the men and women in their charge as actors in a play. But there are many obstacles to overcome including prejudice (both within the prisoners as well as from the guards), illiteracy, class struggles and mistrust just to name a few. And beyond the producing of the play there are many stories of love and lust, friendship and intimidation, that create a powder keg waiting to explode.
Director Leah Adcock-Starr does an admirable job keeping this behemoth of a play going and paced as well as it was. With so many moving parts and so many characters on stage, the execution was superb. My problem is with the meandering nature of the script as the author introduces so much from so many. It just feels a bit much for an evening. But by Act Two, the piece takes off and the result is spectacular, largely due to some stunning performances.
Tim Gouran once again shows why he's a favorite about town with a harrowing portrayal of a hangmen caught between duty, guilt, and love. As lower officer Midshipman Harry Brewer, his relationship with prisoner Duckling, portrayed with seething rage mixed with an underlying care by Sharon Barto Gouran, held a mesmerizing tragic beauty and his final moments are heartbreaking. But then, he turns around and becomes scheming prisoner Sideways showing there's nothing he can't handle. Castellano as Lt Clark also shines in his forbidden relationship with prisoner Mary Brenham, performed by Yadira Duarte who turns in one of the most fascinating character arcs of the piece. A relationship made even more volatile with the interference of fellow prisoner Dabby Bryant, performed with a terrifying underlying menace by Maya Burton. And I must mention Sydney Maltese who gives a disturbing performance as prisoner Liz Morden, a woman filled with anger but tinged with a tragic bit of hope, as well as Osier as prisoner John Wisehammer who seems all hope tinged with the reality of his tragic situation.
Once again, Strawberry Theatre Workshop shows how to bring together a fantastic ensemble and offers a playground for some amazing performances. It was just a bit long. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Strawberry Theatre Workshop's production of "Our Country's Good" a "hang in there until Act Two" YAY-. But maybe I was just lacking some of that patience they mentioned.
"Our Country's Good" from Strawberry Theatre Workshop performs at 12th Ave Arts through February 22nd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.strawshop.org.