Timberlake Wertenbaker's blistering drama of the first British colonists - a penal colony - in Australia at the close of the eighteenth century was vividly brought to life by director Gary Seibert and his talented ensemble. The play is a testament to the power to overcome even the most horrendous situations. Based on the novel The Playmaker by Thomas Kenneally, the plot revolves around a production of George Farqhuar's The Recruiting Officer, directed by British lieutenant Ralph Clark, cast with prisoners of the colony. Set against a backdrop of unspeakable conditions - one of the "actresses" is about to be hanged, and the other prisoners are subjected to daily verbal and physical abuse by the British officers - the prisoners become increasingly drawn into rehearsing the play. Their fascination and immersion with the rehearsal process becomes remarkably similar to that of real actors, and some of them even begin adopting stereotypical theatrical attitudes, bitching about who has the most lines, etc. All the actors are transformed by their theatrical experience and moved to improve themselves in heartwarming ways, transcending the bitterness of their daily life.
Many of the performers played more than one role, doubling as British officers,with a high level of professionalism throughout. Tall, handsome Scott Boyett was a commanding presence as Lieutenant Clark. Laura Jordan was an earthy, unrepentant Liz Morden, who is condemned to be hanged. Jennifer Don was truly touching as Mary Brenham, one of the few literate cast members, who blossoms as an actress and falls in love with Clark. Jennifer Trimble was extremely appealing as the amoral Duckling Smith, and Robert Meksin was heartbreaking as Midshipman Harry Brewer, who has fallen in love with her and dies tragically. Bridgit Antonette Evans contributed a wicked comic delivery as the outspoken Dabb Bryant. Richard Simon, the humorously antic John Wisehammer, displayed a touching bit of unexpected gravity in the final scene, as the play was about to be performed. D. Patrick Swearingen was hilariously hammy as Robert Sideway, who is bitten by the acting bug. Ozborne A. Williams was powerful as Black Caesar, who longs for his native Madagascar, and also played a lone Aboriginal Australian witnessing the arrival of the first convict ship at Sydney. Glenn Peters was appropriately cruel as the insensitive Major Robbie Ross.
Mary T. O'Connor's compact, all-white set effectively conveyed the harshness of life in the colony. Brad Nelson's lights were overly bright at times against the starkness of the set. Robin L. McGee's costumes were very effective, with a stark contrast between the vivid, crisp red coats of the British officers and the drab attire of the prisoners. The prisoners all looked great in their costumes in the final scene, as the play-within-a-play was being performed. Joseph Furnari's subtle use of sound enhanced the production.
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern