LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES, Breadline Theatre Group, at the Athenaeum Theatre studio. The folks at Breadline don’t lack for ambition. In their first Chicago production, Faust Triptych, they probed Marlowe’s, Goethe’s, and Mann’s versions of the Faust legend, hoping to dissect Renaissance, Romantic, and modernist worldviews. They ended up with a muddle. Undaunted, the ensemble generated this disquisition on art and totalitarianism. Love for Three Oranges is set in 1939 in Moscow, where the two great Russian innovators Sergey Prokofiev and Vsevolod Meyerhold are being held in the Kremlin’s Lubyanka Prison, accused of defying Stalinist orthodoxy with their “formalist” opera Love for Three Oranges. Based on Carlo Gozzi’s 1761 commedia dell’arte work of the same name, it tells the fantastic story of the prince who couldn’t laugh finding his princess imprisoned in an enormous orange. Prokofiev and Meyerhold, hoping to stave off exile or execution, give a desperate two-man performance of Gozzi’s work for Stalin himself.

Unfortunately for Breadline, great ambitions don’t necessarily produce great theater. Director Michael Oswalt and his cast of five adopt a funereal pace in this intellectually flaccid jumble of forced humor, logical inconsistencies, and overwrought pretension. Only Kirk Anderson as the director Meyerhold has the physical and mental agility to meld commedia and melodrama; it takes the rest of the cast two and a half hours to conclude that Stalin was bad for Soviet art. –Justin Hayford