Spring play shows the redemptive power of art

Jessica Vogt

The spring term play “Our Country’s Good” is a story of rage, violence, love and the “redemptive power of art” and will be performed this weekend by the Lawrence theatre department.
Directed by associate professor Tim Troy and co-directed by theatre fellow Annette Thornton, the 1988 play by Timberlake Wertenbaker is about the voyage of a group of convicts and British officers to an English penal colony in Australia in the late 18th century.
“Our Country’s Good” is based on the novel “The Playmaker” by Thomas Keneally. The convicts and officers on the ship decide to put on the play “The Recruiting Officer” by George Farquar. “Our Country’s Good” addresses issues of power, physical hardship and the physicality of humanity.
“I’ve been dying to do this play for over a decade,” said Troy. “It has a great message without being preachy: What do you do when you have power over people?”
Much of the power and physicality of the play is dually represented through its content and stage movement. Senior Julie Silver, who plays the part of convict Dabby Bryant, said the directors “gave us ideas to play with on and off stage of different ways of moving.”
Sophomore David Hanzal, who plays a “flamboyant pickpocket turned actor,” added that each of the two main character groups in the play – convicts and officers – were encouraged to “experiment with different movements in the context of the play.”
“It’s a robust, lively, active, almost athletic type of movement on stage,” Troy adds. “There’s violence and abuse, but it comes organically from the context of the play and it’s honest.”
Junior and lead Aram Monisoff plays Lieutenant Ralph Clark, the director of the play within the play who falls in love with the lead female. Monisoff argues that parallels can be drawn between “Our Country’s Good” and the modern soldier-prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq or Guantanamo.
“The play asks ‘what are human rights?'” said Monisoff. He added, “It’s only politically charged if you believe theater is not important to society.”
Ultimately, the play is about art and its power to change humanity. “Putting on a play reminds us that we’re civilized,” Troy said. “It’s a great play to do in a university setting for a thousand reasons – it provides achievable challenges, good dramatic writing,” and many other laudable dramatic qualities.
“Our Country’s Good” will be performed May 11-13 at 8 p.m. and May 14 at 3 p.m. in Stansbury Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at the box office and are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Tickets are free for members of the Lawrence community.