I’ve realized that a lot of my issues with the Broadway production of Hadestown (which for the record was still an extraordinary production and absolutely deserved to sweep the Tony’s) aren’t new problems the Broadway version created, but flaws that were present in NYTW that I hoped another round of revision and development were going to *fix*, and which instead got exacerbated,
And one of the biggest ones is that Hades and Persephone can’t be people, or their story doesn’t make sense. They have to be hovering in the amorphous intersection between god and human and abstract metaphor, because otherwise the clear correct answer to their story arc is that they break up.
(Cw at this point for non-graphic reference to relationship abuse.)
Hades, as a man, is abusive and misogynist, and Persephone, as a woman, is deeply unhappy in her marriage and in her husband’s home and should get the fuck out of there. Looking at them as people, the clear conclusion to any version of Chant II, with or without Persephone’s verse (RIP), is not “we’ll try again next fall” but “I’m leaving and never coming back.” As a woman it is not in Persephone’s power to fix this man nor is it her duty to return to him.
But as a God of the Spring, she has to be married to the God of Death. As Queen of Flowers, she has to be bound into a cycle with the King of Dirt. And as our lady of nature, she has to be tied to the lord of industry, which is Anais Mitchell’s addition but still integral to the story. Hades and Persephone have a poetic relationship that can’t ever be broken. In that framework, Hades’ personality is more mutable than Persephone’s poetic role: maybe Hades Can stop being misogynist, but certainly Persephone cannot stop being his wife. Everyone needs Hades not to be an asshole, because Hades is Death ad Wealth the Earth and Industry, and if he does’t value life and love, its going to fuck up the ecosystem. If Industry is out of harmony with Nature, we all die. If Death doesn’t have a decent balance of power with Spring, we all die. So trying to change Hades’s outlook makes sense as a tactic, both for Persephone and Orpheus. The whole story makes sense, if you treat them more as ideas than as people.
NYTW trembled on the edge of that at times, and I didn’t always feel they got it right, but when the Broadway version shifted the focus of Orpheus’s quest from “sing the value of humanity in the face of exploitation” to “fix the fucked up interpersonal relationship between Hades and Persephone” (the gods have forgotten the song of their love) I think it took a hard swing toward the wrong side of the balancing act.
And this could be its own whole post, but: the decisions they made around the staging of “Our Lady of the Underground” really leaned into “Persephone as abused/neglected wife” over “Persephone as the amoral God of Life and Death” and I think it was a huge thematic loss.