Escape is not an option for prisoners at a New South Wales penal colony, but a group of inmates find freedom through theater. In Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good,” convicts become a cast and crew for a prison play.
Houstonians soon will experience how acting in a play teaches them to become citizens of this new colony as the University of Houston’s School of Theatre & Dance presents “Our Country’s Good” Feb. 21 – March 2 in the University’s Jose Quintero Theatre. Performance times and dates are as follows:
- 8 p.m., Feb. 21 – 22, 27 – 28 and March 1
- 2 p.m., Feb. 23 and March 2
Tickets are $20; $15 for faculty, staff and alumni; and $10 for students. They can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 713-743-2929.
Set in 1789 at a New South Wales (known now as Sydney, Australia) penal colony, a group of prisoners are assembled to perform the Restoration-era comedy “The Recruiting Officer” to honor the king’s birthday. Staging this play is challenging to say the least. Cast members have no acting experience, and some are illiterate. Adding to these obstacles is a pending death sentence for at least one actor.
“Our Country’s Good” is directed by UH theater professor Jack Young. Cast members include Susie Parr as Mary Brenham, Mike Thatcher as Governor Phillip and Tom Conry as Ralph Clark.
The play was first produced in 1988 by the Royal Court Theatre. Its cast included future stage and screen stars Jim Broadbent, David Haig, Linda Bassett and Ron Cook.
“The Royal Court Theatre performed this during Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s administration,” Young said. “It was an answer the commercial, business-first policies of her administration. This play very much promotes people collaborating, cooperating and creating a community. When the characters in this play come together, they become stronger even in the face of their harsh surroundings.”
UH’s School of Theatre & Dance produces pre-professional plays, dance concerts, studio productions, and school shows through the Theatre for Young Audiences program. Performances are delivered in the Wortham Theatre and the Quintero Theatre. The school offers bachelor’s and master's degrees in theater and teacher certifications in dance and theatre. Its graduate program consists of a Master of Arts in theatre and Master of Fine Arts in theatre with specializations in acting, directing and design. Alumni include actors Jim Parsons, Dennis Quaid, Brett Cullen and Robert Wuhl. Faculty includes Tony Award-winning producer Stuart Ostrow and Tony-nominated designer Kevin Rigdon. Among the greats who have taught at the school are Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, Sir Peter Hall, Jose Quintero, Patsy Swayze and Cecil Pickett. In 2012 and 2013, the school was named “Best College Theater” in the Houston Press Theater Awards. For details on UH's School of Theatre & Dance, visit www.theatredance.uh.edu.