Peer Gynt, Breadline Theatre Group, at the Chopin Theatre. Henrik Ibsen's 1867 verse play depicts the anguished title character, a Norwegian folk figure, as a charming louse. Bit by bit Peer loses his soul as he abandons his mother, ignores his beloved Solveig, and travels the world to make his fortune. But significantly Ibsen denies this overreacher the noble ambitions of a Faust: Peer is merely an amoral, misogynistic hedonist, mediocre even in his sins, who sacrifices all to his quest for "the Self," living so entirely for himself that his soul shrinks into scrap.
Leaving Bloomington, Illinois, to make its Chicago debut, the Breadline Theatre Group has condensed Ibsen's lengthy saga, just as the Chicago Actors Ensemble did in 1995 with its two-person Interface (Peer/Gynt). Here three actors play 40 characters, creating many moving stage pictures for Dan Thompson's frenetically shifting lighting and Chris Connelly's alternately supple and rock-hard musical backdrop. But though much in Michael Oswalt's solemn, dedicated staging is visually haunting, much also misfires; this cryptic, too severe adaptation succumbs to bad acoustics and worse vocal projection, a lack of range among the roles, and an elegiac tone that makes Peer's story seem one long loss. Paul Kampf's Peer seems to struggle against nothing but his lines, while Ellen Fairey makes the women one-note saints or whores. Only Kirk Anderson's voice and face are as evocative as Susan Hayes's costumes.