A richly textured drama that works on many levels, Timberlake Wertenbaker's 1988 play depicts a marvelous transformation based on a true story. Convicts sent in 1788 to Australia are required to perform a comedy by George Farquhar as a civilizing exercise--which becomes an opportunity for a second chance. Far from the first folly on the "fatal shore," their crude revival pays tribute to the power of life to imitate art. Though Stephen F. Murray's Promethean Theatre Ensemble staging is sometimes too accurate in its accents to be understood, the persuasive ensemble creates characters who mirror various reactions to art then and now. At every turn the parallels to modern penal camps carry this history play from the past into the present. --Lawrence Bommer a Through 4/7: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, third-floor studio, 2936 N. Southport, 312-902-1500, $10-$20.