Damon Daunno, Nabiyah Be, Amber Gray and Patrick Page are sitting on the stage at a small black box theatre at New York Theatre Workshop. The stars of Hadestown, which runs at NYTW through July 31, have just wrapped a photoshoot, and they have about an hour before their call time. Some of them start to warm up, while Gray opts to finish her dinner, sipping a cup of Miso soup.
Barren and dimly lit, the black box theater looks nothing like the golden lush, in-the-round set of Hadestown, a musical telling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice by singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell. Directed by Rachel Chavkin, the show is a story of lost fate and ill-fated lovers.
Brush up on your mythology if the following is a spoiler. As the tale goes, Orpheus, the gifted musician, and Eurydice, gifted with beauty, fall in love and marry. But soon after, Eurydice tragically dies. Orpheus travels to the underworld, protected by the gods, to save his wife. He convinces Hades to allow Eurydice to leave the underworld with him, provided she follows behind him and he doesn’t look back at her until they have left. He must trust his wife to remain behind him. Almost out of the underworld, Orpheus doubts his wife, and turns back around to see Eurydice. He then loses her forever.
So why continue to tell this story when the audience already knows the ending? What’s different this time is how Mitchell deals with Hades. In her version, the underworld is an economic and a political metaphor for “capitalism, for one’s need to be financially, physically secure at all costs, even that of your life, your soul, your love,” Page, who plays Hades, explains.
In the show, Hades asks, “Why do we build the wall, my children?” And his subjects respond, “Because we have and they have not. Because they want what we have got. The enemy is poverty. And the wall keeps out the enemy. And we build the wall to keep us free.”
Although Mitchell wrote the music as a concept album more than a decade ago, the material is resonating with audiences as Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has explained plans for a multibillion-dollar wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
“The fact that there’s now an American politician, who is either so stupid that he thinks this is a good idea or possible, or so cunning that he exploits the metaphor, is an incredible coincidence,” says Page.
However, the show is a love story, or as Hermes says, “a love story about someone who tries.” We meet Orpheus and Eurydice in happy times. “He could make you see how the world could be, in spite of the way it was, ” Hermes describes Orpheus. Eurydice, though sees the world for what it is, “hard and getting harder harder all time.”
Be plays Eurydice and related to her pragmatism, though like Orpheus, she still believes that if she can do something beautiful enough, she can make change.
And with the final disappearance of Orpheus, there is a death of an ideology. Be posits that President Obama might call this mindset “the audacity of hope.”
Amber Gray, who plays Hades’s wife Persephone, can relate to the show’s message of idealism versus practicality. “When I was a kid, I thought that theater could change the world, and I do not believe that anymore,” she says. Gray says she sees how people through such actions as protesting can “actually change local culture, local laws.” But theater in New York City doesn’t have that political reach in her opinion. “A lot times the people that need to see it can’t afford it or don’t even know that they should be going to theatre,” she adds.
Damon Daunno, who plays Orpheus, says pursuing a career as an artist means being blindly faithful in spite of the lows and highs. “You can be busy this week, and unemployed next week,” he says. “But you do, you have this sort of fire that you have to fan—the grand surrender. You can’t know but you got to keep moving.”
And yet, Gray finds this similarity within all career fields. “Everyone is overeducated now. There are not enough jobs to compensate.”
And so the myth and now this new musical remains a much needed reminder to remain hopeful, Be says.
“Even if it doesn’t work,” Gray adds. “You should still try.”