THE VANISHING TWIN, Lookingglass Theatre Company. This campy, gender-bending gothic spoof is effective enough as a showcase for the versatile Lookingglass crew. Writer-director Bruce Norris displays an uncanny ability to segue from highly literate period melodrama to innuendo-laden Charles Ludlam-meets-Rocky Horror deconstruction. And the script provides the cast ample opportunities to show off their skill at acrobatics, clowning, and mummery as well as garden-variety classical acting while also creating the potential for stunning stage imagery, the company’s trademark.

The plot has its charming flourishes. A prudish governess discovers the horrifying secrets of a familiar gallery of ghoulish grotesques: the wheelchair-bound master and his animal-torturing son, sickly daughter, mute hunchbacked servant, and menacing housekeeper, who’s right out of Daphne DuMaurier. Christine Dunford sparkles in the dual role of ethereal trapeze artist and majestic countess, and Raymond Fox is hilarious as the governess. Indeed, Norris’s complicated script thrills at first, with its intelligent wordplay and obsession with doppelgangers, echoing both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Italo Calvino’s The Cloven Viscount.

But by the second act the wordy, mechanical plot devolves into a wearying, self-indulgent exercise, and the original rock score is shrill, overmiked, and unintelligible. Ultimately this is an ambitious but unrewarding talent show focused on little more than displaying Lookingglass’s virtuosity.

–Adam Langer