Actors Convey Hope Through Convicts

By Yalda Sadiq

Hope, redemption, controversy and guilty consciences are the
central elements of the two-act play “Our Country’s Good.” The
theatrical production opened in the University Theatre on Friday,
Nov. 10 in front of a mixed audience of Cal Poly students and
community members. “It’s done very well. The acting is very [good].
The lighting highlights the set design and sets the scene,” said
Mathew Hernandez of Cerritos College. “Our Country’s Good” was
directed by Linda Bisesti, associate professor of theatre arts. It
was written by Timberlake Wertenbaker and was based on the novel
“The Playmaker” by Thomas Keneally. “It was funny, had a good story
and a good plot,” said Lisa Russo, a third-year psychology student.
The play is based on a true story. It takes place in 1787 Botany
Bay, Australia and revolves around convicts that are transported
from England to Australia because the prisons in England are
overcrowded. The 550 men and 200 women convicts are brought over on
the lower deck of the ship in inhumane conditions with no light,
fresh air or water. Once they reach Australia they are expected to
work and pay for their crimes that consist of offenses such as
stealing. Most of the convicts are teenagers or in their twenties
with the oldest being an 82-year-old woman. The governor-in-chief,
Arthur Philips, believes that the prisoners should not be treated
so harshly, instead they should put on a play for the residents of
Botany Bay and in the process he hopes they would become civilized.
He puts Lieutenant Ralph Clark, played by Tito Ortiz, in charge of
directing the play, “The Recruiting Officer.” The majority of “Our
Country’s Good” focuses on the challenges that Clark faces in
trying to make about a dozen convicts work together. There is also
emphasis on the effect of the play on the convicts. The officers of
Botany Bay showed great opposition against the idea of seeing the
convicts in the new light where they have a sense of purpose in
life. The theatre department hopes to “create a sense of community
by having plays that aren’t just entertainment but also engage in
discussion such as class and justice,” said Bill Morse the chair of
the theatre department, the production manager and lighting
designer for the play. ” [My goal was to show how in] inhumane
conditions, art can flourish and survive,” said Bisesti. “Believing
in the human spirit is a powerful thing.” Bisesti was also the
voice coach for the play. The dialect coach, Barbara Bragg, trained
the students on English, Scottish, Cockney and Irish accents,
according to Bisesti. “It was good. I thought it was funnier than I
expected,” said Brittany Medrano, a student from Loyola Marymont.
In preparation for the play, the 15 cast members who are playing 25
characters, had to rehearse Monday through Thursday evenings for
four and a half hours for a six-week period, according to Bisesti.
The 18th century costumes, hair and makeup were all designed by
Shakeia Revis whose work on this play was a partial fulfillment of
her senior project. The scenic designer was a student, Rich
Kirchhoff who was also doing it as a partial fulfillment of his
senior project. Bisesti has been in the Cal Poly theatre department
for six years and she has directed six plays such as Shakespeare’s
“Othello” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” She has had a principal
role on the television show the “West Wing.” In film, she has a
principal role in an upcoming movie called “Love is the Drug” with
Darryl Hanna. Another of her films, “Killing Time” was shown at the
Sundance Film Festival. “Our Country’s Good” will be playing in the
University Theatre Nov. 16, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. Matinee
performances will be offered tomorrow at 10 a.m. and Nov. 19 at 2
p.m., which will be the final performance.

Yalda Sadiq can be reached by e-mail at or
by phone at (909) 869-3744.

Actors Convey Hope Through Convicts

Actors Convey Hope Through Convicts

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