Grayson College Theatre Department presents “Our Country’s Good”
Grayson College theatre students take on the challenges of an 18th century Australian penal colony when they present “Our Country’s Good” Oct. 8-10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Cruce Stark Auditorium, located in the Arts & Communication Center on GC’s Main Campus in Denison. Written by British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker and adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel “The Playmaker,” the award-winning and Tony Award-nominated play is geared for adult audiences.
The plot centers on a group of British Royal Marines and the convicts they oversee at the first penal colony in New South Wales in the 1780s. It’s a play within a play in that the convicts are coerced into presenting a play of the period called “The Recruiting Officer.” The story shows the class system in the convict camp and tackles adult themes such as sexuality, punishment, the Georgian judicial system, and redemption through the arts.
“‘Our Country’s Good’ discusses the idea that it’s possible for theatre to be a humanizing force, that its merits are more than entertainment,” said Robin Robinson, GC theatre director. “Several scenes show the soldiers debating theatre’s merits and referencing other civilized cultures that value fine arts such as music, literature and theatre – and the place of the arts in society.
“This isn’t an ancient argument; we’re still debating it today,” Robinson continued. “Do we fund the arts in schools or don’t we? Do the arts have the ability to redeem people? In ‘Our Country’s Good,’ it’s a story of hope, redemption and art. At first, the convicts don’t have hope but as they prepare to present their play, they start seeing themselves in a different light.”
Subject matter isn’t the only challenge for the largely freshmen cast. First, they are learning dialects: British, Irish, Scottish and aboriginal Australian. Robinson brought in Nikki Silva, theatre teacher at Denison High School, to discuss diction and dialects with the students.
“They’re not speaking Texan up there,” said Robinson of the actors on stage. “Understanding diction and the subtleties of each dialect helps the students develop their characters.”
Character arcs – who these people are in the play’s beginning and how they change throughout it – pose are a second challenge for the students. Redemption (change for the good) is difficult to portray.
“The cast has to physically and vocally show that their characters are redeemed,” Robinson said.
Much of ‘Our Country’s Good’ is historically accurate. Many of the characters are named for actual people who wrote memoirs about that time and situation. There’s artistic license of course, but the play references things that the characters want out of life, and their published journals show that many of them went on to do those things.
“It’s a difficult task given the time period and subject matter, but the cast and crew are up for it,” Robinson said. “We have a really good group of students.”
“Our Country’s Good” utilizes GC’s state-of-the-art technology for sets and lighting. The play has 22 scenes and the entire stage is used. GC theatre professor Tenna Matthews serves as technical director and lighting designer. She worked with students to create lighting that sets the tone for each scene.
Sets and costumes were designed by GC theatre professor Thea Albert. She worked with the students to build sets and sew all of the clothing except for the soldiers’ uniforms, which were rented for the production.
“This is a big tech show and it requires good sets and costumes,” Robison said. “In addition to the acting challenges, it gives students the opportunity to learn all of the skills. It’s why they’re here at Grayson College.”
Three sophomores perform in the 20-member cast, including: Hunter McDaniel of Caddo Mills as Reverend Johnson; Holden Webster of Denison as Captain Arthur Phillip, RM; and Chris Hendrik of Sadler as Major Robbie Ross, RM.
Denison freshmen include James Berggren as Captain Watkin Tench, RM; Colt Schell as Ketch Freeman; and Avery Speed as Captain Jemmy Campbell, RM. Tom Bean freshmen are Katelin Britton as Mary Brenham and Dwayne Bruce as Black Caesar. Wolfe City freshmen include Luke Brown as 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark, RM; and Shelby Clements as Duckling Smith. Whitewright freshman Colton Wall plays two roles as Lieutenant Will Dawes, RM, and John Arscott.
Other freshmen cast members include: Tyler Burns of Bells as Robert Sideway; Darrion Dockins of Clarksville as Captain David Collins, RM; Caitlin Pohland of Corsicana as Liz Morden; Connor Copeland of Howe as 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark, RM; Phillip Allen of Mesquite as Aboriginal Australian; Jesse Alsup of Olney as Midshipman Harry Brewer, RM; Jordan Curry of Sadler as Meg Long; Michael Butt of Sherman as John Wisehammer; and Ashley Coffman of Sugar Land as Dabby Bryant.
Bells sophomore crew members are Aaron May, costume assistant to designer; and Hunter Malone, sound board operator. Denison sophomore crew members include: Bryce Dansby, assistant lighting director; A.J. Johnston, stage manager; and Webster, master carpenter. Other sophomore crew members are: Krystina Burns of Howe, light board operator; Robert Gildner of McKinney, master electrician; Jorge Amador of Princeton, sound designer; and Katie Gaskill of Savoy, makeup/hair designer.
Freshmen crew members include: Trent Rohret of Bonham, paint/scenic crafts; Calie Vanderey of Denison and Natalie Hines of Flower Mound, props; and Devin Anding of Jewett, assistant stage manager.
Tickets are $3 or free with Grayson College ID. Reservations are not necessary but group reservations are available. For more information about “Our Country’s Good” or to make group reservations for the play, contact the GC Theatre Department at 903-463-8609 or firstname.lastname@example.org .