The Prickle (@ThePrickle) June 01, 2019
A Hellenic euphony has stumbled into a New Orleans saloon in the Tony-nominated musical Hadestown, written by Anais Mitchell. Keeping with the tradition of poets and playwrights, Mitchell employs the pantheon of ancients to tell her story (we might call this “fanfiction” today). Our narrator is Hermes, played by the distinguished André De Shields with wings fluttering nigh invisible from his suit sleeves. The Three Fates are a sinister Greek chorus, hovering menacingly from the moment Eurydice attempts to light a candle (an homage to La Bohème — or another Broadway hit based on Puccini?) and has it wickedly blown out.
The show posits a retelling of classical myth with a prominent female perspective. Eurydice (played by the mesmerizingly talented Eva Noblezada) willingly signs herself over to Hades in a Faustian twist rather than the traditional mythology in which she is poisoned tragically by a viper (to which Mitchell gives a nod in “Hey, Little Songbird,” sung by Patrick Page as Hades, who makes Tom Waits sound like a tenor). There’s no mention of Amber Gray’s sizzling and intermittently sozzled Persephone being abducted by Hades or eating a handful of pomegranate seeds that bind her to the Underworld for the winter. Instead, the story goes, they were once a young couple in consensual love — a point integral to later plot developments, as Orpheus (played as a borderline idiot savant by a wildly talented Reeve Carney, who spends much of his on-stage time strumming a guitar to accompany his astonishing vocal range) relies on this prior tenderness in the chthonic gods’ relationship in his plea to take Eurydice home.
Despite this empowered slant, both women are ultimately at the mercy of their male counterparts’ fragile egos. Perhaps it is Mitchell’s expectation that her audience is well-versed in Virgil that rushes us through the love story between Orpheus and Eurydice, granting them no longer than a single song to meet, fall in love and pledge their everlasting loyalty. As a result, the chemistry between Carney and Noblezada feels hollow throughout their story in spite of each actor’s personal charisma. Orpheus, in particular, comes across as guileless to the point of total self-involvement, leaving his beloved to fend for herself through storm and famine. It’s difficult not to see this dynamic as a commentary on the way in which a man is given unlimited license when considered an artist while a woman is forced into pragmatism to survive.
In another gender flip, Orpheus comes across more like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of Mt. Olympus. With his ecstatic harmonies, he restores humanity to the toiling wraiths in the Underworld and incites reflection in the Mr. Potter-like villain Hades, who previously insisted in the fear-inducing (or is it tear-inducing?) politically apropos number “Why We Build the Wall” that we do it to keep us free. Though we all know by now to beware of Greeks bearing gifts, Orpheus accepts Hades’ offer to release Eurydice with the warning that if he looks back to see whether she is still behind him, she will disappear forever into the Underworld. The tragedy of the Orpheus myth and thus Hadestown is Orpheus’ inability to trust himself: the “Doubt Comes In” as he and Eurydice slog through the Stygian fog. Another woman destroyed by the mind of a man — and yet “it’s an old song” and we’re going to listen to the soundtrack again and again.