Hephaestus Theater Review
by Kris Vire
Looking something like a mĂ©lange of the specialty acts (i.e., the good parts) of Cirque du Soleilâ€™s Banana Shpeel and the non-annoying aspects of Blue Man Group and Stompâ€”oh, plus some glancing references to Greek mythologyâ€”Hernandezâ€™s circus-theater piece returns for its third Chicago engagement since debuting in 2005. Amped up with new and expanded acts for this run in the Goodmanâ€™s Owen space, itâ€™s far more exhilarating than the sum of those parts has any right to be.
Hephaestus, for the uninitiated, was according to lore a son of Zeusâ€™s wife Hera whom she literally cast from Mount Olympus, crippling him in the process; he became god of the forge, the only deity readmitted to Olympus after exile. But really, you donâ€™t need to know that. Hernandez provides just enough bits of mythology to perhaps spark further investigation by young audience members and some clever in-jokes for adults. (Love goddess Aphrodite is a contortionist? Of course she is.)
Hephaestusâ€™s minimal plot, like the dazzling work by set and lighting designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, is just in support of the astounding circus-arts talent on display. New additions include the Anastasini brothers, ninth-gen circus performers, whose â€śRisleyâ€ť actâ€”think a teenage boy foot-juggling his preteen brotherâ€”wins the crowd like crazy. And the Owen gives the performers a higher ceiling than Lookingglassâ€™s space and a closer proximity to the audience, making possible a new seven-person-pyramid high-wire climax that, if it fails, will have acrobats falling onto audience members. If weâ€™ve forgotten by that point what any of this has to do with the Greek gods, so what? Our breath is taken nonetheless.