Holding my breath. That's the main thing I remember from the remounted Lookingglass hit, "Hephaestus," currently showing in the Goodman's Owen Theatre. Holding my breath and trying to imagine the kind of muscles these performers have. I didn't see either the 2005 original or the 2008 remount of the show but I can confirm that the seemingly hyperbolic reviews ("breathtaking," "eye-popping," "heart-stopping") are not so much over-the-top as exactingly accurate for this production. Watching world-class circus performers twirl, balance and appear to defy rules of the human body – all with a serene calmness and a sense of ease – it's hard not to let your jaw drop in awe.
Hephaestus opens with a young girl running into her bedroom during a thunderstorm. Seeking to drown out the noise of her parents arguing, she opens a book and begins reading the story of Hephaestus. As a child of the '80s, I thought I was prepared for what can happen when a kid starts reading a mysterious book ("The NeverEnding Story") or hearing an adventurous story being told ("The Princess Bride"), but co-writers Tony Hernandez and Heidi Stillman know how to surprise. As the story (based on a Greek myth) is carefully recounted, performers literally fall from the sky, dazzling costumes abound, and the theatre is filled with extreme drumming that would make Blue Man Group proud.
Within five minutes of the show starting, a bevy of sea nymphs stream from the ceiling on sparkling green strips of silken fabric. The sea nymphs are there to care for Hephaestus (played by co-director Hernandez), crippled after being tossed to Earth from Mount Olympus by his mother Hera (Lijana Wallenda-Hernandez). Hephaestus goes on to forge metallic men and women (with extraordinary strength and agility) out of silver, and after trapping Hera in a magical throne, faces various gods – including Ares (Almas Meirmanov), Iris (Erendira Vazquez Wallenda) and ultimately the seductive Aphrodite (Katia Dmitrieva). The story serves mainly as a structure in which to work in as much thrilling acrobatic action as possible, but never feels forced.
The finale – a 7-person pyramid on a high wire (yes, it's as impressive as it sounds) – uses the full air space of the theatre and serves as a fitting cap to a spectacular piece of circus-filled artistry. If you missed the first two runs of this 'Greek Mythology Circus Tale,' don't make that mistake this time around. "Hephaestus" is magical.