Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Theater | STAGE REVIEW

A Captivating Production

'Our Country's Good' broadly dramatizes British convicts' attempts to reclaim their humanity.

May 29, 1997|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rarely have historical circumstances conspired to illustrate the redemptive power of the creative spirit more poignantly than in the events surrounding the first play ever staged in the British penal colony of Australia. Those events, eloquently dramatized in Timberlake Wertenbaker's "Our Country's Good," receive a stirring re-creation at the Colony Studio Theatre.

Fine performances bring passion and conviction to the gradual process by which a makeshift troupe of transported convicts reclaims humanity as they rehearse their roles in an inconsequential drawing-room farce. The dregs of English society are well-represented by Blaise Messinger, Lisa Beezley, and especially by Bonita Friedericy as a sullen, unkempt thief cast as an aristocrat--her unique precursor of method acting is to imagine the rich women she's robbed.

In addition to focused steering of his well-cast ensemble, director David Rose succeeds in evoking a palpable sense of urgency--there's never any doubt how much is at stake for these people, even without the pontifications of the benevolently humanist (if oddly diffident) colony commander (Charles Howerton).

Todd Nielsen supplies the heart of the show as the lieutenant who conceives and directs the convict production, discovering more about himself than he bargained for thanks to an unexpected tryst with his comely, vulnerable star (Michelle Duffy). Jon Palmer is a venomous presence as the major fiercely opposed to the play. And Lego Louis is memorable as a guilt-ridden sailor hopelessly enamored of one of the colony prostitutes (Melissa Hanson).

Australia in the late 1700s was as much a hellhole for jailers as for the captives, and costume designer Dana R. Woods' impossibly clean, starched uniforms on the officers are a distracting strain on realism. But it's the only technical misstep in a handsome production that paints a broad human canvas on an intimate stage.

BE THERE

"Our Country's Good," Colony Studio Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends July 27. $23-$25. (213) 665-3011. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|