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As I was leaving Incurable Theater's adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's grotesque 1816 fairy tale--about impressionable student Nathaniel, driven mad by recurring visitations from the eyeball-stealing Sandman--a staff member approached me and lamented, "You came on the worst night ever!" I couldn't disagree. Plagued by logistical logjams and technical mishaps, this 90-minute production featuring a puppet protagonist and masked cast barely limped to the finish line. But given Meredith Miller's sketchy, shapeless adaptation and her actors' curiously dispassionate performances (considering the source's heightened emotions), the show might have stumbled under ideal circumstances. The overall design is handsome if a bit mysterious--there's a small curtained proscenium halfway upstage. And the comically dreary life-size puppet representing the anxious Nathaniel is charming. But without adequate storytelling, Hoffmann's fantastic tale is flat and nearly incoherent. Through 11/7: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 6 PM. No shows Sat-Sun 10/30-31. Breadline Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice, 773-327-6096. $10-$12; Thu "pay what you can." Fri 10/29, $40 in advance or $50 at door (includes postshow reception).

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