Review of The Quest for the Innkeeper’s Cask at Circus Flora

    After a pandemic-delayed season last year, Circus Flora is back at its usual time with a splendid show entitled, The Quest for the Innkeeper’s Cask.

    As always, Circus Flora connects its circus acts with a storyline narrated by the show’s theater director, Cecil MacKinnon, in her guise as Yo-Yo the Storyteller. This year’s scenario, by MacKinnon and Jack Marsh, begins in the distant past. A very tall, very inhospitable innkeeper is robbing guests of their zest for life and it in a cask. The story soon jumps forward to the present, where a detective agency is exploring the caves beneath St. Louis to find the cask and the innkeeper’s ghost.

    The detectives call themselves the St. Louis Spirit Sleuths. Its principal members are a brother and sister played by the excellent featured performers, Britt Lower and Ambrose Martos.

    In addition to starring as Helly in the Apple TV+ series, Severance, Lower has written and directed a short film called Circus Person, in which she plays a woman who copes with heartbreak by joining a circus. Lower’s Circus Flora character also is on a journey of self-discovery. She wins the audience over completely while learning that finding herself is the key to solving her case.

    Martos is a wacky clown who brings charming whimsy to his character and to improvisations with members of the audience.

    This year’s circus acts are a fine mix of favorites and newcomers. The favorites include the Flying Wallendas, who have appeared in 30 of Circus Flora’s 32 seasons. This year’s pyramid includes Tino Wallenda, his son Alex, and Alex’s wife, Claire, who got her start in circus with St. Louis’s Circus Harmony and its performing troupe, the St. Louis Arches.

    The Arches are back, too. They specialize in group acrobatics. Their execution is always stellar, and their routines are always fresh, thanks to the inventiveness of their director, Jessica Hentoff.

    The Flying Cortes dazzle once again on trapeze. In addition to a triple somersault, this year’s act includes a collaboration between Robinson Cortes and his ten-year-old son, Tomas Wallenda-Cortes.

    Excelling in this year’s equestrian segments are Caleb Carinci and Lèa Innocenti. Carinci lives up to his nickname, The Daring Horseman, with a jump through a burning hoop and a flip from one moving horse to another. Innocenti performs with six ponies at once.

    Sam Renaud and Louis Joyal demonstrate astonishing strength as a Russian Cradle duo. They are also members of St. Louis Spirit Sleuths.

    Trio Black Diamond (Danawit Gebremariam, Selamawit Gebremariam, & Tiblet Gurbachew) puts on an amazing display of hand balance equilibrium and duo foot juggling.

    Among the many contributors to this show’s success are musical director and arranger Janine Del’Arte, composers Del’Arte and Miriam Cutler, lighting designer Jesse Alford, costume designer Nina Reed, dramaturg Hovey Burgess, tentmaster Gary “Bear” Wilbur, and scenic designers Margery and Peter Spack.

    The Quest for the Innkeeper’s Cask continues through July 3 at the Big Top, 3401 Washington Avenue.

    —Gerry Kowarsky