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The Greeks who had an explanation for everything attributed the changing of the seasons to the myth of Hades and Persephone. The god of the underworld, you see, fell in love with Persephone and took her to hell, Greek hell which is not quite the same, as other hells. Her mother, the goddess Demeter objected and a compromise was struck. Persephone would spend six months of the year among us and six months in the underworld, meaning when she was here it would be summer and when she was down there it would be winter. Very sensible. The Greeks knew the scientific explanation too but the myth is too pleasant to give it up for facts.
No point having a hell like the Christian one where no one visits and returns to tell about it. So the Greeks found people who went there for a visit and returned to earth. Take Orpheus who managed to go past security to Hades by mesmerizing the guards with his music and bring back his love Eurydice. Well, almost bring her back. Unlike Christians who have no firsthand evidence of heaven or hell, the Greeks needed direct evidence about the place. Sensible, no?
The myth of Orpheus and Euridice was the very first one which an opera was composed and there are over one hundred such works. One of them is Hadestown, a musical, by Anais Mitchell that is wowing audiences at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.
Everyone has his own ideas about the myth and Mitchell’s take is to make it a people’s or working-class version. No pretty nymphs dressed in white cavorting in the plains of Thrace,
But let’s go to Hadestown.
We first meet the god Hermes (Will Mann) who is our exuberant host and who introduces us to the characters in the musical including the Fates and the Factory Workers or the chorus. Hermes struck me as an evangelist leading a congregation and intoning Praise the Lord or some such catch phrase to make sure everyone expresses enthusiasm. The audience in the CAA Theatre came primed and ready to respond to almost everything with applause and hoots and howls of approval. This continued throughout the performance even when I did not have a clue as to the call for such exuberance. Mann was a relentless cheerleader who did not miss a beat or let the audience relax.
Eurydice (Amay Braganza) is cold and hungry, looking for warmth and sustenance and willing to work in hell or its Greek counterpart Hades. She is a pathetic creature but we love her for her innocence and goodness. Hades, (deep-voiced, stentorian and dictatorial Matthew Patrick Quinn), King of the underworld is a slave owner and slave driver right to the point of having his residents sign agreements to stay in his realm forever. Eurydice signs the agreement.
Orpheus (John Krause giving us a sweet-voiced and lovable portrayal) is a poor musician hoping to strike it big with a big song that he tries to compose. He falls in love with Eurydice and he decides to go to the the underworld to claim his love. Oh, don’t forget, Hades is running a factory and Hades is unhappily married to Persephone (Lana Gordon). No wonder. We see her dressed in a cheap dress with an even cheaper white mink coat drunk and singing very badly. That is Persephone who is sloshed and singing like that, not Lana.
The downtrodden Factory Workers, Hades’ moral compass that I akin to that of Simon Legree and the appalling working conditions are enough to upset the most hard-hearted, and that is the time to mention my fifteen-year-old companion. She had not seen Hadestown before and has some knowledge of the myth. She is moved by the story from the start, whimpers at the beginning and weeps at the fate of the two lovers. No, not sniffles and some tears but really crying.
The music and songs display variations, of course, but the most noticeable aspect aside from the high volume is aggressive playing. The band has a powerful percussion and they the almost a continuous beat like a heartbeat. Thud, bang,, thud bang. It is singing and playing in your face and the audience’s reaction as described above is that of hoots and howls of orgiastic proportions.
As you know, Orpheus does go to the underworld to rescue Eurydice. Persephone tries to convince Hades to let the lovers return to earth. She reminds him of their love. Orpheus sings his big song which is about Hades’ love for Persephone with long refrains of La, la. La and la la. Hades relents and lets the lovers walk back to the earth with the following restriction: Orpheus is to walk ahead of Eurydice all the way and and never look at her. If he does, back she goes to the factory.
As the whole world knows Orpheus looks back and Eurydice disappears.
As the unbearable tragedy was approaching, my companion started sobbing uncontrollably and inconsolably. Her whole body was heaving and she could not stop until the lengthy applause and curtain calls ended.
And that is how Hadestown should be seen and enjoyed.
Hadestown by Anais Mitchell (music, lyrics and book) continues until May 26, 2024 at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St. Toronto, Ontario.

(from top left clockwise) Matthew Patrick Quinn, Lana Gordon, J. Antonio Rodriguez, Will Mann, Amaya Braganza and company. Photo: T Charles Erickson
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson

May 24, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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