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Conscience Hesitatus

The interesting drama of a latter-day Woyzeck suffers from lack of experience among the creators

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., July 20, 2012

Exhibitionism

Buttross Properties, 7901 Cameron, #207
www.lastacttheater.com
Through July 28
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

Conscience Hesitatus tries to do some very interesting things. Will Davenport (Domenic Procaccini II) is a prison guard who works long hours to support his family, only to discover one day that his wife has been abusing their children. She's locked up, and he begins to navigate the sad world of re-entry into bachelorhood while attempting to regain custody of his kids, attend night school to become a peace officer, and maintain some semblance of professional integrity (meaning he doesn't beat up prisoners for fun, but he also doesn't report it when other guards do). He's surrounded by other guards who are either hugely aggressive or pathetically spacey.

In a way, this original play by Bretton B. Holmes is a bit like a latter-day Woyzeck, in which a working-class man is confronted with the sad realities of his station. Davenport means well, and his inaction in the first half says something about what it is to navigate life in possession of a weak character.

However, the similarities stop there, largely due to a script from an inexperienced writer and a production from a company that is still gaining its footing. The script doesn't make sense. A home visit from the county in this play means a close-minded interrogation from one Dr. Wolfe (Andrew Brett), who disregards blatant accusations of child abuse. Fellow guard Dirk Mapleton (Derek Vandi) has extreme and unexplained aggression issues, but the plot point on which his guilt is proven is flimsy at best.

Director Douglas Mackie never catches on to the rhythm of the dialogue, and so, even at 90 minutes, the play drags as the actors allow dead air in. Last Act Theatre Company has staged Conscience Hesitatus in a North Austin office building, and the setting kind of works. However, it's unlucky if anyone from the surrounding offices decides to work late: The walls are not soundproof. The company has also cast actors who, judging from their performances, are relatively inexperienced on the professional stage. Some show promise, but on the whole, it's a well-meaning group of actors who appear to lack formal training.

Starting up a theatre company isn't easy, and in the first year, a producer doesn't necessarily get the first pick of the draft when it comes to locating a script or casting actors. What that means, however, is that it's that much more important for a fledgling company to locate scripts that are manageable, both for producing and for casting, and to build relationships with a few key people who have talent and experience. The rest will come.

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