Lookingglass Theatre's

Lookingglass Alice,

visiting the Arden Theatre from its home in Chicago, is a surreal vaudeville, a strange and gymnastic riff on Lewis Carroll's famous stories.

It begins with a man in a frock coat, sitting in a wingback chair; the offstage voice of a little girl speaks and he muses, " . . . and still she haunts me." When he looks in the looking glass above the ornate mantelpiece, Alice looks back, and then the show begins - with the first of many nifty surprises I won't spoil for you.

All the usual suspects are on hand - the Cheshire Cat, the Red Queen with her flamingo mallets, the White Rabbit, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Caterpillar, and many more, all played by four stilt-walking, unicycling, tumbling men: Larry Distasi, Anthony Fleming 3d, Jesse J. Perez and Doug Hara (audiences will remember him as last year's Owen Meany), who makes a breathtaking exit as a superbly linguistic and elegant Humpty Dumpty ("The king has made promises - ").

Lauren Hirte is a charming little Alice whose rope swinging, trapeze and acrobatic skills are impressive, accompanied as they are by small joyous shrieks.

The music and the lighting are amusing and startling, and there are big balloons the audience gets to bat around.

The ingenious and often amazing props - a dozen chairs fly out of a small basket, the Red Queen floats on a sea of tears, the White Queen knits with umbrellas - all go to prove what Lewis Carroll knew, that it is possible to "believe in six impossible things before breakfast."

The narrative, such as it is, hangs on Alice's moving from square to square across a chessboard, so that eventually the pawn can become a queen. The story might have more enchantment for the audience if it were more coherent - too often it seems it's just an excuse to get to the next physical trick. Which is not to say that Lookingglass Alice is not a lively, eye-widening evening; there is much to say callooh! callay! about.

Lookingglass Alice

Written by Lewis Carroll, directed and adapted by David Catlin, sets by Daniel Ostling, costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, lighting by Chris Binder, sound and composition by Andre Pluess / Ben Sussman / Ray Nardelli, circus rigging by Scott Osgood, circus choreography by Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi. Lookingglass Theatre Company, in association with the Actors Gymnasium, presented by Arden Theatre.

Cast: Larry DiStasi (White Knight, etc.), Anthony Fleming 3d (Cheshire Cat, etc.), Doug Hara (Mad Hatter, etc.), Jesse J. Perez (Red Queen, etc.), Lauren Hirte (Alice).

Playing at Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second St. Through June 10. Tickets $27-$45. Information: 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org