Our Country's Good
Theater Schmeater, 325-6500.
Through Oct 13.

Our Country's Good set a precedent for me: Of all the zillions of shows I have seen and/or reviewed, never have I recognized a script so obviously penned in the desperate hopes of becoming a Movie of the Week.

The setup: It's the 1780s. A ragtag group of convicted thieves, murderers, and whores are exiled from the sunny shores of great Britannia to HM's penal colony of Australia. Their ultra-liberal "reformation not punishment" governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, forces this filthy, desperate bunch to produce George Farquhar's comedy The Recruiting Officer, in hopes of instilling a little culture and civilization in the dirty beasts. Through the magic of theater and good old-fashioned teamwork, they come to forsake their shivs for Shakespeare, thievery for thespianism. Inevitably, they all come together in a bleary-eyed group hug, having redeemed their basic humanity and dignity. Kind of like The Bad News Bears with syphilis and leg shackles.

As schmaltzy as this production gets--and make no mistake, it gets REALLY schmaltzy--I absolutely loved it. It is thoughtful, complex, and touching. It tastefully tackles as many social issues as can possibly be crammed into 150 minutes: nature versus nurture, crime versus punishment, human rights, the nature of authority, censorship, the politics of prostitution... hell, they even managed to squeeze in the plight of indigenous peoples. But it was all done with a thought-provoking and touching elegance, carried off masterfully by a passionate and engaging cast. Each actor deserves his or her own accolades and adulation, but suffice it to say, they all done good. Pain, pathos, humor, revulsion, and charm, all expressed with soul and candor; I can't remember when I've seen such a skilled and well-rounded ensemble cast. Mix in some inspirationally bitchy one-liners delivered by toothless slags, and you have a pretty darn memorable theater experience. Besides, how can you not love a show with a character called "Shitty Meg"? That's right. You can't.

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