Rehearsing and playing in Our Country’s Good is a dream come true for a challenge-driven actor. This play has everything. Complex characters, historical background, transformative ideas, blood-thirsty Scots, and did I mention ghosts? I want to focus on one character in particular though that really presents me with an exciting challenge.
Harry Brewer, a tortured young soul clinging to the cusp of reality, is a midshipman in the Royal Navy. Think of Harry as a modern greenhorn; these guys usually receive orders for the really crappy jobs at sea and port. Back then these tasks would’ve included things such as disposal of bodily fluids, whippings, need I go on?
Point being, unsanitary conditions were rampant during long voyages at sea. In the case of Our Country’s Good, we know the text tells us that Harry and the others had been on the ocean for eight months prior to making landfall. Soldiers, sailors and convicts totaled at over eight hundred bodies, meaning food was depleting quickly and these conditions were unimaginable, not to mention the constant violence, abuse, and infection. Many passengers died before even reaching the colony due to disease, dehydration, or malnutrition. Which brings us to the complexities of Mr. Brewer’s physical condition and how it progresses through the show. Brewer begins to show erratic behavior at the colony, claiming to see the ghosts of convicts he had hung in the early days of the colony’s establishment. It is clear to the crew and convicts he has fallen ill. As brewer begins to experience the symptoms of this “illness” we can think about his overriding sense of guilt, plus environmental factors such as the heat from the sun, and determine that he’s headed for a downhill slope.
I knew that if I wanted to physically inform the character and use the body to reflect his health, I had to determine a specific known illness that Harry could be dealing with, based off of the given circumstances at hand: a severe lack of food, dehydration, hallucinations, and finally something that would progress or develop into something physically interesting. After some research, I settled on a combination of two illnesses considered common on the ships of Pirates and naval fleets at the time; Scurvy and Delirium.
Delirium, symptoms including weakness and hallucinations caused by dehydration, would explain the origin of Harry’s crazy talk and apparent conversations with ghosts. Scurvy, although fun to say, the same can’t be said for being sick with it. Without any source of vitamin C, or fruit, lesions can begin to appear on the body, but mostly fever, depression, imbalance, and progressive immobilization or lethargy occurs.
After I settled on these circumstances, I knew I could begin to really start molding his movement, physical characteristics, and define his story. After all is said and done, this process continues to provide a fun and evolving challenge that has truly been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to bring Harry, and his not contagious sickness, to life.
Resident Acting Company Member
Our Country’s Good