Lookingglass Alice was created by Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company in collaboration with a circus school called Actors Gymnasium. The acrobatic feats on display are sometimes astounding; seeing actress Lauren Hirte tumble in midair using a hoop-like device called a lyra is a striking way to depict Alice's fall down the rabbit hole. It also promises great things to come. Unfortunately, little of the juggling, stilt-walking and trapeze work that follow add any dimension to Alice's story. Lookingglass Alice substitutes dazzle for depth, adding too many layers to the classic tale and making the theatergoer feel as disoriented as Alice herself. Maybe that was the idea - to put the audience member in Alice's shoes - but the jarring transitions and the abstract staging make it hard to follow the story. What's more, the attempts at Carroll-style madcap humor only work about half the time; too many of the skits seem to be wacky for wackiness' sake.
The performers are very skilled at slapstick and acrobatics. You keep wondering what these inventive actors will do next, but you never care what will happen next to Alice or any of the other unlikable characters. (There is only a superficial attempt to explore Alice's inner life and her relationship with Lewis Carroll, a.k.a. Charles Dodgson. For most of the show, Alice has little to do but run around and look bewildered.)
Still, Lauren Hirte is very impressive in the physically demanding role of Alice - convincingly girlish yet calm in the face of crisis. She's also a superb acrobat, and she has great chemistry with her supporting cast, especially Larry DiStasi as a frantic White Knight and Doug Hara as an outlandish Mad Hatter.
But while the cast is made up of great entertainers, the show they're trapped in is only intermittently entertaining. Sadly, Lookingglass Alice's trip to Wonderland rarely evokes a sense of wonder.
Lookingglass Alice runs through June 10, 2007 at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 North Second Street. Ticket prices are $27-45 for adults, $18-22 for teens and $14-16 for kids, with group discounts available, and may be purchased by calling the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, online at www.ardentheartre.org or in person at the box office.