ENRICO IV --

(Arena Stage Kreeger Theater, through February 21)

Luigi Pirandello's 1922 play is a tantalizingly deceptive work, a veritable jigsaw puzzle for the theater. Its central character is a madman, who thinks he's Enrico IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, and forces everyone in his presence to participate in his medieval masquerade. But is he crazy? What's really going on in this latter-day mock-up of Enrico's throne room? You'll have to listen closely to follow the ins and outs of the curious story and even then you may have trouble making all the pieces fit. But that's probably just the way Pirandello, who was endlessly fascinated by the games people play and the masks they wear, would have wanted it. Watching Arena's production is a little like finding yourself in a funhouse with distorting mirrors and tilting floors, only it's a funhouse for intellectuals. Stanley Anderson will keep you constantly off-guard as the volatile Enrico IV; by turns, he's volatile, childlike, chillingly lucid and crazy as the proverbial fox. Although the going can be slow on occasion, if you stick with the play until the end, you'll find yourself facing more than you bargained for. The arabesques and convolutions eventually lead to the stark, psychological wasteland, as telling as any Beckett or Pinter or Albee ever put on the stage.