ELIXIR, Breadline Theatre Group. After a year of itinerancy, the Breadliners have found an empty space with bad sight lines and awkward angles in a building nestled between the Ravenswood el and the Northwestern tracks. On opening night audiences also endured a car alarm, which drowned out a chunk of the second act--though not quite enough.
Still, some of the best Chicago theaters have grown from privation. Unfortunately, the Breadliners have consecrated their new home with Elixir, a well-researched but dramatically inert period piece by ensemble member Paul Kampf. Set in a debtors' prison in 19th-century London, the incidents--there is no story--revolve around an uncolorful rogues' gallery, which includes charlatan twins, a bogus aristocrat, a fallen judge, and a con man who peddles the title cure-all.
Kampf might have had fun depicting dishonor among thieves, but instead he mires their joyless shenanigans in confusing chronology and overlong exposition. Much of the second act tediously explains how the murderous sisters got to jail, information that arrives too late and is played for laughs that never come. There's no question Elixir needs cutting; the tough part would be deciding what to keep. Michael Oswalt's dogged staging aims for gallows humor but succumbs to heavy-handed mugging and glacial pacing. Indeed, the eight cast members--who have impeccable accents and talent to spare--could have made up Elixir as they went along and done no worse a job than the playwright. --Lawrence Bommer