​‘Our Country’s Good’ at Tennessee Williams Center

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

This weekend, the University’s Department of Theatre and Dance will kick off the 2019–20 mainstage season, beginning with “Our Country’s Good,” an Olivier Award-winning play written by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Performances will be at the Tennessee Williams Center at the University of the South on Oct. 11–12, at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 12– 13, at 2 p.m. Tickets are free.

“Our Country’s Good” is adapted from “The Playmaker” by Australian novelist, Thomas Keneally, who is best known for writing “Schindler’s List.” Set in 1789, the play dramatizes the period in history when the British government began to export their criminal convicts to Australia, which up until that point had been inhabited only by Aboriginal Australians.

To raise morale amongst the jailed and jailers alike—and in hopes of being noticed by the governor—2nd Lt. Ralph Clark decides to stage a production of Farquhar’s comedy “The Recruiting Officer,” cast with inmates. However, Ralph quickly realizes his endeavor will be less than simple.

Jim Crawford, associate professor of theatre at the University, said the play deals with themes around colonialism, incarceration, gender, race, sex and the redemptive power of art.

“It’s a play about a very odd moment in history, the time when the British thought it would be a good idea to send their criminal convicts to Australia and turn a continent 14,000 miles away into their own private prison colony,” Crawford said. “But this play has a lot to say about our world today —how we treat outsiders, how we treat criminals and immigrants and whether or not we recognize their humanity.”

Auditions for the show were held in late August, and the cast has been rehearsing five nights per week since then. For many of the show’s 23 cast members, the play requires working double—meaning many of the actors will be playing multiple roles.

“The play is written to have everyone in the cast playing two roles in order to draw attention to the fact that it’s a play. There’s a play within the play, and the characters argue about whether an audience is smart enough to realize that one actor can play more than one character and that sometimes a woman is playing a man,” Crawford said. “In the end, I did less double casting than I was planning to just because we had a great turnout at the auditions, and I wanted to give as many deserving students as possible the chance to be in the play.”

Crawford said despite the deep dive the play goes to in matters of colonialism and social class, at the heart of the play is the theme of art’s redemptive power.

“It looks at people who are in dire straits, and it explores how one small artistic endeavor can both liberate people and also disrupt the structure of this small society. The opening image of the play is of a convict being brutally flogged. The play looks at how some of the people involved, both the punisher and the punished, discover one another’s humanity, and also their own,” Crawford said.

This backstage comedy and examination of humanness will run through the end of the weekend. Tickets are free and can be reserved in advance on eventbrite.com .