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23.5 Hours dramatically compelling

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2016 (247 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Going by the first scene of this drama by Carey Crim, you might think you've wandered into a domestic comedy. It's just a normal day in the fulfilling life of high school drama teacher Tom Hodges (Jonathan Watton), returning home from a production of Romeo and Juliet with his wife Leigh (Amanda Lisman), and friends, fellow teacher Bruce (Arne MacPherson) and his wife Jayne (Lisa Norton). Tom and Leigh's teen son Nicholas (Tristan Carlucci) puts in a cheeky appearance before heading to a friend's for a sleepover, chiding his dad for forgetting Leigh's birthday.

A phone call ends the scene with an abrupt set-up for the next, with Tom arriving home following a three-year absence after getting out of prison after being convicted of sexual assault on a 15-year-old student ...the girl who played Juliet, in fact.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Jonathan Watton (Tom Hodges) and Amanda Lisman (Leigh Hodges) converse with Lisa Norton (Jayne Wagner) during a scene from 23.5 Hours.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jonathan Watton (Tom Hodges) and Amanda Lisman (Leigh Hodges) converse with Lisa Norton (Jayne Wagner) during a scene from 23.5 Hours.

What was once a happy cocoon of domestic bliss is now layered with strata of tension and conflict. Tom has been traumatized by his time in prison and must be coaxed into his erudite comfort zone by being asked to explain the effect of tannins in wine. The familial fracture has been tough on son Nicholas, who has had to fight his way through high school and, in open rebellion, smokes dope openly in his room. It's been tougher still on Leigh, who has been failing to keep up payments on the house and maintaining the semblance of normalcy in that once happy home.

Bruce has stayed loyal to his friend, but Jayne alone seems troubled by the possibility that Tom may have been guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. She worries about her two teen daughters being alone in Tom's presence.

Previously mounted in 2014 under the title Conviction, Crim's drama, at 140 minutes including intermission, manages to be dramatically compelling, despite its essentially one-sided view of the story. We never see or hear from the girl who brought the charges against the once-popular teacher because Crim is primarily interested in how the situation tests Leigh's love for her husband. The title refers to the hours in the day that one retains certainty in one's life, the remaining half hour being that distressing time when niggling doubt tests faith.

Co-directors Karyl Lynn Burns and Katharine Farmer are themselves tested in the matter of creating substantial drama in an atmosphere of such ambiguity. It helps that they've assembled a strong team of actors.

In his portrayal of Tom, Jonathan Watton builds an intelligent and caring character who at least deserves the consideration of innocence. Lisman gracefully portrays the challenging arc of Leigh's character, a blissful matriarch obliged to cope with a catalog of troubles and indignities.

Tristan Carlucci is especially strong in the role of teen son Nicholas, creating a credibly tortured character even when Crim's dialogue (I'm thinking of the scene in which the stoned Nick notices a new house plant) gets a little hokey.

MacPherson ably handles the task of bringing lightness to the heavy proceedings, with Norton providing an important counterpoint as the character who bears the heaviest burden of doubt.

The set design by Brian Perchaluk is a fastidiously perfect living space, befitting the opening scene, but doesn't quite mirror the decline of the Hodges home as well as it should in subsequent scenes. After all, perfection, as the drama demonstrates, is fleeting.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Read more by Randall King.

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