It ain’t right and it ain’t natural

Amber Gray as Persephone in Hadestown (2019)

I made the mistake recently of listening to the Broadway cast recording of Hadestown, and it’s had me pretty melancholy ever since. One of the tangible benefits of living in New York City is access to the theater scene, although it’s just this side of prohibitively expensive and generally only for very special occasions and out-of-town guests. That means I was lucky enough to see the off-Broadway production of Hadestown in 2016 as well as the current (“current”?) show.

Repeat viewings are a thing I reserve for television and films. To see a stage production more than once is to always have that first time running silently in my head; it’s also why I can’t usually see musicals I’ve already heard, especially if I love my OCR (Cabaret, I’m looking at you; Hamilton, thank goodness I went into you totally unprepared). Hadestown is all about retelling and repetition, though, so even while I wasn’t champing at the bit about the Broadway relaunch in 2019, I was more than happy to accompany my friend Becca when she asked.

I confess, I like this recording better for the most part.

Before making the leap to a bigger stage and a longer run, Hadestown changed a good deal from its off-Broadway production. Eurydice was much more feral and fleshed out, while Orpheus became a shy and awkward busboy, rather than 2016’s rockabilly Jeff Buckley. Some of the numbers became too Broadway for me, too big and belt-y, but the choreography of the Stones in particular shook me where I sat. Hades and Persephone remained in place, the eternal Patrick Page and Amber Gray — I don’t know who else could ever play those roles to my satisfaction. But somehow, even more so, creator Anaïs Mitchell blew up the central plot to encompass more than just a love story: Hadestown is also about labor organizing, calamity capitalism and climate change.

The latter is really on my mind during this gorgeous spring passed inside. I last went into Manhattan on March 13. That was my last time on public transit or anywhere more than a mile from my Brooklyn apartment. If I didn’t have a dog who needs three-plus mile walks each day, I might have missed all the beautiful waves of early spring: the snowdrops, the crocuses, the forsythia, the daffodils; the hyacinths, the redbuds, the cherry blossoms; the psychedelic greens of forthcoming leaves. Just the other day, I saw my first lilacs. I was so overcome I pulled down my cloth mask and stuck my face in them. Lilac season means something very particular to me. I haven’t been smelling the tulips because I’ve been worried someone else will have done the same. I can’t let the tulip become a plague vector.

Nobody has anything else to write about but coronavirus now. Every week there’s a new essential article about what it means, what it lays bare, what could happen to us next, what’s happening to the people you can’t see. I keep thinking about this winter in New York, which barely had any snow. I wonder if the bat that met the pangolin that met the person that met the virus was helped along by climate change. I wish I had access to antibody testing, to tell me if that horrific illness I had in late January and early February was COVID-19.

Persephone: You’re early.

Hades: I missed you.

Way Down Hadestown

This week on On the Media, consistently one of my favorite podcasts, Brooke Gladstone spoke with an expert who deconstructed the ecofascism of “we are the virus, the earth is healing.” Meanwhile on Imaginary Worlds, host Eric Molinsky looked into solarpunk, a vision of the future in which humanity gets its act together and learns how to clean up after itself. Invisibilia kicked off its latest season with a deep dive into the origin of whale songs in popular music (at least as part of it); it touched on a Judy Collins track that has been one of my foundational texts, “Farewell to Tarwathie,” which overlays an old Scottish whaling song with humpbacks singing. When I was very small and extremely obsessed with whales, my dad took me to the large old Grundig record player in his office and played this track for me. It was all I wanted to listen to after that — I thought it was so sad and strange and magnificent.

It’s hard to feel essential cooped up in a one-bedroom apartment, battling fruit flies and making rare takeout meals stretch out. I wish I knew some way to rise to this moment and make my future self proud. My dreams are as vivid and strange as everyone else’s; last night, the singer Jon Spencer came to me in an anxiety spiral because he’d used the same phrase twice in one song. On Twitter, someone jokingly asked what you’d done to cause the pandemic; I was going to spend April on a roadtrip through the Southeast and Midwest, visiting places I might like to move when my lease is up this fall. I read that amazing essay about the restauranteur who had to close her beloved Lower East Side self-made institution. I don’t know what’s going to be left whenever I find someplace else to be.

I’m dreaming of a sunny apartment in Chicago. I’m dreaming of an Arts and Crafts-style bungalow in an Appalachian college town. I’m dreaming of just being able to get Chinese food again.

To the world we dream about, and the one we live in now

Livin’ It Up on Top

Stay brave, friends.

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