What’s it about?
Adapted from Anaïs Mitchell’s 2010 concept album of the same name, Hadestown tells the doomed love story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
What’d I experience?
Distracted by the daily disappointments of reality, I often forget how delightful mythology can be. Before the show even begins, I sense an air of whimsy at Hadestown, as the theatre has been turned into an amphitheater (of sorts) with a circular stage surround by tiers of wooden chairs and an orchestra. Even with audience members around me discussing distinctly New York City topics like brunch and Broadway, I feel like I’m in a different place and a different time.
Once every seat is occupied the lights finally dim and members of the live band starts trickling in, followed by the actors. The band starts playing as the actors start singing, introducing their characters: Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone, the Fates, and of course, Hades. Though the actors are dressed in modern clothing, a mysterious fog floating through the theatre makes them appear dreamy and other-worldly.
I had heard the names Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone, Hermes, and Hades before, but never in conversation with each other. I didn’t know that Orpheus and Eurydice were young lovers. I also didn’t know that Persephone and Hades were the queen and king of the underworld. I didn’t know that when these gods and goddesses come together, the story is not a happy one.
As far as love stories go, aside from some variation, this one remains fairly timeless: boy meets girl, boy woos girl by playing acoustic guitar, girl meets king of the underworld and signs her life away to him.
Orpheus must then travel to the underworld and beg Hades to let Eurydice go, a task that is practically impossible. But with the help of his musical talents and Persephone's sympathy, Orpheus convinces Hades to let Eurydice go - under one condition. The condition states that the two must walk back to the world of the living, Eurydice behind Orpheus, and if he turns around to look at her before they've both left the underworld, Eurydice will be pulled right back down to the underworld - forever.
Overjoyed, Orpheus and Eurydice begin their journey. All is well as they weave through the audience, Orpheus making sure to not look back in doubt, Eurydice trusting Orpheus to lead the way. It looks like they’re going to make it and then, just as Orpheus is about to exit the underworld, he looks back. There is a noticeable absence of sound or movement throughout the theatre. Orpheus has lost Eurydice for good.
I had forgotten the warning at the beginning from Hermes: “It’s a sad song, but we sing it anyway.” I had put aside my cynicism to wholeheartedly root for Orpheus and Eurydice and now I sit stunned, feeling like the floor has just collapsed under my feet.
I wait. I wait for Orpheus to find Eurydice again. But I remember now that’s not how it works. In myth, as in life, there are no second chances.