There may have been safer choices than Timberlake Wertenbaker's "Our Country's Good" to close out the fledgling Quantum Theatre Company's inaugural season at the NoHo Actors' Studio. But for a troupe committed to the artistic and educational roles of theater, the selection is particularly appropriate.
A historically based chronicle of events leading up to the first play to be performed in the desolate 1788 penal colony that later became Australia, Wertenbaker's drama is a moving celebration of the redemptive power of art.
Performance-wise, the Quantum cast delivers most of the goods despite some unusual challenges posed by the script. All actors save one appear in two roles, an ingenious conceit to underscore the scant differences between convicts and their military jailers (during their tour of duty, the officers had to endure the same harsh climate and food privations as their captives).
The lone single-cast exception is Eric Baldwin's very credible turn in the pivotal role of Lt. Ralph Clark, assigned by his compassionate commanding officer (Michael Ordona) to enlist and direct the convicts with the only play script available. The title of his inconsequential farce ("The Recruiting Officer") proves ironically prophetic, as Lt. Clark is caught up in a battle to reclaim the humanity from the dregs of society.
Ken Lally also distinguishes himself with range and versatility as the sneering, sadistic Major Ross and the despised hangman Ketch. Other standouts include David Rutter as John Wisehammer, the convict who discovers his own poetic nature (and who would later found Australia's first theater company), Charls Sedgwick Hall as a doomed soldier, and Jenni Kirk as a reluctant ingenue who evokes passions in Clark.
Though the characters are skillfully rendered under Thomas Craig Elliott's direction, the company's resources fall short of the staging demands. Compared with other recent local revivals, this one isn't far removed from the resources available to the story's original convict troupe--at times pressing the point of authenticity a bit too far.
* "Our Country's Good," NoHo Actors' Studio, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 22. $12-15. (818) 755-8850, Ext. 2. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.