For this week’s event, I saw the Evergreen Players’ production of Our Country’s Good, a play set in Australia during the time it was a prisoner for English convicts. The play features a sympathetic officer who realizes that the prisoners are, for the most part, good people in a poor situation; with tensions rising in the camp as a result of dwindling supplies and no word of shipments from England, he offers to assist the convicts in putting together a play for the entertainment of the officers. It works in the favor of both sides; the officers gain free entertainment in a place where there is little to do, and the prisoners have something to occupy their time other than misery and menial labor. This is similar, in part to Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, which details the journey of a poor family and their spiteful grandmother on an attempt to vacation in Florida, which the grandmother does not desire to go. She manipulates the family into making a detour towards a house she remembers as a child, but realizes she has gotten them lost for no reason as the house is in an entirely different state. The family ends up in an accident, only to be accosted and killed on the side of the road by a group of bandits the grandmother had previously been complaining about. Her mantra throughout the piece is “a good man is hard to find”, which is ironic as she herself is an awful person. The camp in Our Country’s Good, conversely, is filled with people who are supposed to be “bad” men, but are rather excellent people in poor situations, many for which the punishment did not suit the crime.
One of the poems assigned was “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which details the remarkable elasticity of nature and the wonderful powers of God. Regardless of what man does to his environment, its beauty manages to persevere. This also occurs in the convicts in Our Country’s Good; despite all that they have been through, and all that they are forced to endure at the hands of the (at times, cruel) officers, they still manage to be good people. They are fiercely loyal to each other, and have a firm sense of community and righteousness. Even as one of the convicts faced the gallows for refusing to answer whether or not she knew about an escape that had occurred, she still did not sell out her friend.
“Happiness”, a poem by Jane Hirshfield, speaks of a lover who can sense the pressures of society melting away when she is with her loved one. This mimics the love triangle depicted in Our Country’s Good; both the officer in charge of the play and a convict are in love with one of the female convicts, and both praise her for her inherent ability to make them feel as if they were back in England. The officer asserts that she is so lovely she makes him forget his family back home, and how much he misses them, as well as the stress of attempting to keep the peace between the officers and the convicts within the camp, whereas the fellow convict assures her that she makes him feel as if he had never been arrested, and as if there is hope for him to return to England one day.