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Juniata Theatre's 'Our Country's Good' Explores Redemption, Crime, Punishment

(Posted February 4, 2008)

Andrew Belser, director of the Juniata Theatre program

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Crime and punishment, as well as the question of whether people can be redeemed, are the central issues Juniata College theatre students will portray the powerful drama "Our Country's Good," which runs at 7:30 p.m. from Thursday, Feb. 14, through Saturday, Feb. 16 and from Thursday, Feb 21 through Saturday, Feb 23 in the von Liebig Theatre in the Halbritter Center for the Performing Arts.

Tickets for the production are $3 for students with I.D and $7 for adults. Tickets are available at the box office on the day of the performance, or at Juniata's information desk at Ellis Hall one week before opening night. Tickets also can be ordered by calling (814) 641-3608.

"Our Country's Good" takes theatergoers into Britain's colonial past as the play depicts how a well-meaning British Army officer brings morale and hope to a group of male and female prisoners who have been exiled to form a penal colony in 1780s Australia. The instrument used to raise the convicts' spirits is a play, a Restoration comedy called "The Recruiting Officer."

The Juniata production will use the postmodern look of the Suzanne von Liebig Theatre to suggest the dislocation the British soldiers and prisoners felt when they landed in Australia. "Our Country's Good" is based on the true story of 2nd Lt. Arthur Clark, who organized a dramatic company at Botany Bay, the penal colony established in Australia.

Based on a book, "The Playmaker," by Thomas Keneally (author of "Schindler's List"), "Our Country's Good" explores the idea of justice and redemption by telling stories from the point of view of both the convicts and the jailers. Most of the Juniata cast members play double roles as convicts and soldiers. The prisoners were exiled for what would be considered petty crimes such as thievery or assault (criminals could be sentenced to exile for stealing a loaf of bread). The soldiers, Royal Marines who had recently lost the Revolutionary War to the upstart colony the United States, also felt as though they were being exiled.

In telling the tale of the staging of a play, playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker is able dramatically depict the idea of just punishment, morality and how the British class system affected the social structure of the penal colony, and later, Australia. Because the penal colony held both male and female convicts, the play also features a romantic subplot.

By using the device of a play-within-a-play, "Our Country's Good" delivers the message that theatre has the power to transform or humanize human beings, even those who society thinks of as irredeemable.

The Juniata students in the play are as follows:

Jack Berkebile, a sophomore from Latrobe, Pa.; Tricia Bitetto, a senior from Ringoes, N.J.; Marci Chamberlain, a sophomore from Williamsburg, Pa.; Charles Earnhart, a junior from Mercer, Pa.; Skye Hatton-Hopkins, a junior from Bellefonte, Pa.; Peter Mike-Mayer, a freshman from Glen Rock, N.J.; Kellyn Miller, a senior from Tyrone, Pa.; Megan Monahan, a junior from Pottstown, Pa.; Jesse Parsons, a senior from Roosevelt, N.J.; Gerald Prosser, a sophomore from Hollidaysburg, Pa.; Adam Vachon, a senior from Gray, Maine; and Mandi Yeager, a senior from Curwensville, Pa.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.