In her 1988 play about convicts sent to an Australian penal colony in the late 18th century, Timberlake Wertenbaker speaks passionately about justice, the civilizing role of theater, and the role of government in shaping society. This Piven Theatre ensemble, however, is anything but passionate in Jennifer Green's staging: the cast hams it up throughout the first half, providing caricatures instead of characters. There are two notable exceptions, however. Scott Shallenbarger's vulnerability as Ralph Clark, the lieutenant who directs the convicts in a play and makes hard moral choices, underscores the fear and uncertainty the first Australian settlers must have faced. And James V. Meredith's gravity as Captain Arthur Philip, the colony governor who supports Clark's efforts, makes the other man's choices seem important. The night I attended, the production finally jelled in the last 20 minutes--but that was two hours into the play. Through 11/21: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2:30 PM. No show Sun 10/31. Piven Theatre, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes, Evanston, 847-866-8049. $23-$25.