“Our Country’s Good” ask for some of that same effort from the audience.
The current production by Bag&Baggage Productions asks patrons to pay close attention and consider the story behind the play. As in most things that don’t come easy, it is, in the end, worth the effort.
The play was written by Timberlake Wertenbaker and is based on the 1987 novel, “The Playmaker,” written by Australian novelist Thomas Keneally. It is a fictionalized version of actual events that took place during the British colonization of Australia. In the play, Wertenbaker takes the audience on a sometimes grueling trip from the hold of a prison ship headed to an Australian penal colony to behind the stage on opening night of a comedy performed by the convicts.
It is a play about a play, the worth of theater, and how it can influence and even change people.
Either by choice or chance, the performance is especially appropriate forBag&Baggage as it considers its future in Hillsboro, which may largely be determined by how much the community values meaningful theater. Scott Palmer, B&B’s artistic director, emphasizes the situation in his program notes.
Strengths: It’s a powerful, gritty story with scenes that will make you squirm uncomfortably. The production is two and a half hours long, with almost every minute rich with the fabric that transforms a group of disparate criminals into a theater cast with a common goal that is stronger than their individual needs.
Weaknesses: Scenes are introduced with the cast chanting about the changes. In some cases it works, in others it’s simply a distraction. Surely, with Palmer’s remarkable talent, he could have veered from the script and come up with a better transition.
Most Significant Performance:The cast is made up of Bag&Baggage’s core of seasoned performers. The author called for them to fill multiple roles, switching personas as they make the transformation from jailer to the jailed.
You expect them to be good, and they don’t disappoint.
If there is a standout it would be Gary Strong, whose roles as the sometimes-patronizing Captain Collins and pickpocket prisoner Robert Sideway represent men at the far reaches of the pendulum’s arc.
Line of the Night: “The theater is an expression of civilization,” says Peter Schuyler as Capt. Phillip, as he tries to convince officers of the British Marines, who look upon hanging as appropriate entertainment for prisoners.
Memorable Moments: The transformation of Liz Morden, played by Clara-Liis Hillier, from gallows-destined convict to semi-cultured woman at the moment she tells the truth about herself and is believed by others.
Take-away: “Our Country’s Good” is the type of production that is the foundation of meaningful theater. There is value in not only what the story says, but also how it makes you think.
Consider that Australia was founded as a penal colony to rid the wealthy, ruling class of England of low-level criminals who committed property crimes to simply exist. Then consider our own country’s for-profit prisons filled with similar miscreants today, and what that says as our progress as a people.
“Our Country’s Good,” a production of Bag&Baggage, plays at the The Venetian, 253 E. Main Street, in Hillsboro. Showtimes are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2, through May 31. Tickets: $20-$30. For on line sales, see firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, seehttps://bagnbaggage.org.
— Jerry F. Boone for The Oregonian/OregonLive