'Hephaestus' acrobats dazzle as a poignant tale unfolds
by Barbara Vitello
Ensemble members use no nets and employ safety lines only occasionally, which made for some tense moments when the audience seemed to hold its collective breath for fear the shallowest intake would distract the performers. Of course nothing distracted this veteran cast of Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros. alums, gymnasts, dancers and musicians. Together, they create a riveting theatrical event that combines the eloquence of ballet, the exuberance of "Stomp," the thrills of the cirque and the flamboyance of the Greatest Show On Earth.
Conceived by Tony Hernandez, who co-wrote and directed the production with Heidi Stillman, the show showcases the myth of Hephaestus (a poignant, understated Hernandez). Upon seeing his crippled body, Hephaestus' mother Hera (seventh generation circus artist Lijana Wallenda-Hernandez, whose feats reflect a ferocious beauty) cast the infant from Mount Olympus. Surviving his fall to earth, he became god of the forge, the master craftsman who created the gods' weapons and accessories.
Narrated by the Little Girl (sweet-voiced Abigail Droeger) who escapes her family's domestic turmoil by immersing herself in stories, the artfully told tale unfolds on Brian Sidney Bembridge's industrial set. It's brought further to life with an original score by Josh Horvath, Ray Nardelli and Kevin O'Donnell and Andre Pluess (with lyrics by Rick Sims) that alternates from heavily percussive to ethereal to a lilting lullaby in a minor key. Supporting performances sweeten this visual treat. Among them are Anna Vigeland's joyful turn as Iris; Anya Stankus' seductive, serpentine Aphrodite; Almas Meirmanov's intimidating Ares and Jarrett Dapier, Nich Galzin, Rick Kubes and Richie McGuire as Hephaestus' workmen, the enigmatic Silver Guys.
Estrangement, reconciliation and the healing power of love insinuate themselves into this show. But when all is said and done, "Hephaestus" isn't really about grand themes. It's about great visuals: golden-haired nymphs tumbling and twirling on billowing fabrics suspended from the ceiling; a Cyclops moving like liquid silver within a giant wheel; proud Hera spinning on her glittering throne and an exhilarating tightrope stunt that demonstrates in no uncertain terms, the thrill of theater without a net.