… a thrilling physical showcase with heart and laughs to spare.
Cirque du Soleil plus Superheroes. That’s the easiest way to quickly describe the wildly inventive Flying V Fights: Heroes & Monsters…and yet it still feels woefully insufficient. Genre-busting company Flying V’s latest production represents the best kind of fan service, using iconic comic book and fantasy references to inspire unique stories full of humor, heart, and daring physicality.
Heroes & Monsters explodes onto the stage with an opening spectacle of superhero action. The cast leaps, rolls, brawls, and poses through vignettes recreating iconic cultural figures including the Avengers, Frodo and Gollum, and even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Clever visual tricks, muscular fight choreography, flashing lasers, and pulsing music turn the cozy Writer’s Center into a Hollywood sound stage. And that’s just the first segment.
After the breathless opener, the focus shifts to a moving scene based on the story of Frankenstein’s monster. Performer Tim Torre channels a wounded creature of immense power, swinging between quiet protector and angry beast with emotive expressions and graceful physicality. Fight director Jonathan Ezra Rubin crafts the first of many impressive fight scenes for his nimble, adaptable cast.
The next segment focuses on a nighttime battle between the monsters under a boy’s bed and….his teddy bear. Here, the cast members prove themselves to be adept puppeteers as well as acrobats. Using only their bodies and a small bear fashioned with some wooden dowels, the performers stage an epic showdown between “evil” and “fluffy” that has to be seen to be believed. The director’s keen sense of balance between danger and humor gives the scene a Spielberg-esque sense of wonder.
After an atmospheric, if a little drawn out, fight scene that could be subtitled “Little Red Riding Hood: Vampire Hunter”, we arrive at a segment that shamelessly pulls on the audience’s heartstrings using fan-favorite comic stories “All Star Superman” and “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”. The emotive Lee Liebeskind plays an aged, sullen Superman pining for better days in his Fortress of Solitude. Flashbacks to better days play out against an affecting indie rock soundtrack. While non-comics fans may be confused by the wordless montage, anyone with a passing knowledge of the Superman universe should prepare for an emotional gut-punch.
A clever fight is next between Batman and Catwoman and a knockout bar brawl conducted by the Devil himself, interspersed with a gut-wrenching scene where Madeline Key torments Army vet Tori Bertocci as a literal demon on her back. As if aware that the audience might need a break, the directors throw in a lighthearted segment focusing a pair of superhero and villain “frenemies”. After punching their clocks to start the work day, Jon Jon Johnson and Madeline Key make hay of playful one-upmanship – only these friendly pranks involve death rays, bombs, and traps. It’s a delightful sort of Roadrunner-Wile E. Coyote feud, with Key’s schemes blowing up in her face as Johnson looks on bemusedly.
After a post-apocalyptic fight scene that gets a bit too dour for its own good, the final segment repositions the world through the eyes of the common man. The earnest Robert Bowen Smith is well suited as an Average Joe glumly sharing his daily routine on the subway, the sidewalk, and so on with a menagerie of heroes and monsters. It’s a fitting climax with an emotional twist that would be a shame to spoil here.
None of these practically wordless segments could take flight without the enthusiastic creativity of the lighting, sound, scene, and projection designers. The production leans heavily on the design team’s world-building to enable the cast to work its physical magic, and they don’t disappoint. Every bit of fog, projected superhero signal, strobe light, and carefully selected sound effect works in concert to turn talented physical performers into epic Heroes and Monsters.
This is all to say that it’s more than just Cirque Du Soleil with Superheroes. Flying V has broken new ground, blending emotional storytelling with physical and technical spectacle. Here’s hoping this scrappy company gets to spread their cracking vision to more people and bigger stages in the future.
Flying V Fights: Heroes & Monsters Created by Flying V . Directed by Jonathan Ezra Rubin & Jason Schlafstein . Produced by Flying V . Reviewed by Ben Demers