Possibly taking a cue from "The Prisoner of Zenda," or Broadway's long running "Marat Sade," "Our Country's Good," by Timberlake Wertenbaker, and directed by Roger Smart, is essentially a play within a play. The main story is truly a harrowing experience, as the audience comes to realize that theatre is not always a safe place, but rather an opportunity to revisit a period of time, set in 1788, as the British Empire began its penal colonization of Australia. Yet, it also offers the audience the "chance for recovery of voice, assertion of character, and the performance of freedom." The production is brilliant, as it lets every member of the ensemble, male and female convicts and prisoners, seize hold of their roles, taking command of the stage, and delivering raw outpourings of primal emotion.
The title of the play alone suggests that it's an amusing satire: for our country's good, rather than its demise... Based on historic events, and adapted by Thomas Keneally's "The Playmaker," the show reveals the irony of having illiterates perform a tragi-comic restoration comedy, designed to elevate the prisoners as a community. This brilliant premise rings true of all the great playwrights, such as Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens. One of the many themes is the plight of the poor, oppressed, and neglected. Many convicts are banished to an island, bereft of any true environment, a big rock of a prison, hence the spare, barren set.
All the jailers could do, was to come up with a play, " The Officer's Recruiter," where the prisoners would perform for their sheer delight, and in turn, the end result was "a moving celebration of the power of drama to change lives for the good." All kinds of ribaldry ensued, in this play within a play, such a clever conceit.
Like Shakespeare's "All's well that ends well," and with different roles constantly interchanging, this production has much merit and substance.
Through February 22nd
Theatre Wit 1229 Belmont Ave. Chicago
Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays 8PM; Sunday 3 PM
www.shatteredglobe.org (773) 975-8150