The Arden Theater is preparing for the anticipated production of the renowned Anaïs Mitchell’s reworking of Hadestown running March 21 and March 22. The folk-pop musical, based on Mitchell’s album of the same name, is a modern re-imagining of the myth of Orpheus as he attempts to convince Hades to return his lover to the world of the living. The piece will showcase the talent of local performers such as the likes of John Rutherford, who plays the sinister role of Hades. I had the opportunity to speak with Rutherford about his reflections on his participation in Hadestown and here is what he had to share, straight from the devil’s lips.
What initially peaked your interest in participating in this project?
“The producers of the show approached me while I was in a showcase about a year and a half ago to ask if I’d be interested. At their first word, I thought it was right up my alley… Upon further investigation I realized the scope and scale and seriousness of this particular project. I realized this was a really special opportunity for me.”
How would you describe the myth of Orpheus?
“It’s one of those stories, one of those morals in life that resonates… When you start to peel back the layers of the story you realize it reflects so much of what we experience and see in the world today. The myth seems to somehow capture a lot about the human experience and love of life.”
Why do you think the myth still resonates with modern audiences after the passage of so much time?
“It’s one of the great stories, that like any great literature, seems to be timeless. History tends to repeat itself. It seems to have captured what life can be about. It’s that kind of teaching story. As you unfold the story, you discover more about your experience on this earth and I think every good story should have that essence to it. In this case, it’s a story that’s lived on for hundreds of thousands of years for good reason; it’s very prophetic. The initial myth contains a lot of insight into life and I think Anaïs’ writing and her reworking of the story really points that out. It contains themes that continue to surface in our existence, in our world.”
You noted earlier there was a moral to this myth. What did you take away personally?
“There were so many different discoveries that resonated with me. It [speaks] to me on an intimate, personal level…There’s this struggle in the story around Orpheus who’s a poet, artist, and songwriter struggling to stand by his beliefs and his work. I can relate very closely to that experience. I’ll read a line about him being penniless and writing a poem to his lover when he’s not able to provide on a consistent or sufficient level. These are concerns that certainly exist in my world, so it’s a bit heart-stopping to realize how this story encapsulates so much of life’s experiences.”
What is it like to play Hades and crush Orpheus’ optimism when you can relate so closely to his artistic character?
“It’s a really frightening role to play. But it sheds light on the fact that this is what we deal with. Life is filled with good people and bad people. The struggle continues. So it’s not about relating to Orpheus or Hades since there’s bits of both of those characters in all of us … and in the people we encounter. It continues to unfold and shed light on how I view the world. It’s wonderful.”
All Music Guide said about the production that “there isn’t anything remotely like it.” What do you think makes Hadestown stand out?
“I think what makes it stand out in all honesty is its brilliance and its focus in the beauty of the writing. Really the artistic beauty of it shines. As a listener you’re drawn to the music, the story and the mood and it just continues to grow on you… It’s a very ambitious and large scale work and I don’t think there are many projects being produced with such a continuous thematic thread running throughout or as well written. [Anaïs’] writing is so focused and articulate that it appears … effortless. It has this easy natural flow that I find extraordinary. I’m so thrilled and excited to get the chance to work with her. She strikes me as a brilliant writer and artist whose time is here. I’m sure we’re going to hear much more from her as the years go by.”
As a musician, what are your thoughts on Mitchell’s album Hadestown
“The album itself is stunning. The writing is the first place its masterpiece emerges. But the musicianship on the record … came together with such natural beauty. The layering, the production, the sound, the essence of it makes it one of the great recordings I’ve listened to in recent years. Beautifully, beautifully written, recorded, and performed. Each and every aspect is extraordinary beauty to my ears. The drums alone thrill me.”
Being a singer/songwriter, what was it like to venture onto the stage as an actor?
“It continued to shed light on my experience as a writer. I can’t really explain it other than it seems to opened doors and windows for me as a creative person. It’s very inspiring. It was really quite a daunting experience … to perform and make the material my own. I thought it’d be very difficult but it turned out to be … an adventure because the music is just so beautiful and well written. It’s such strong and meaningful material that it’s easy to get into. I think it’s complementary really to what I’m doing as a singer and songwriter. It opens up my horizons. I’ve always had an interest in the blending of singing, songwriting, and acting. [Hadestown] brings together those disciplines for me and makes me realize i’d love to … develop an acting side to my creative work.”
This seems like a really great creative opportunity for you.
“Exactly. It really is a wonderful opportunity. I’m just so excited to play with super talented people, to learn from them and exchange ideas with them. It’s an opportunity on so many levels to stretch my own creative capacity, learn from others, and work with talented individuals from all over. It’s a big experience for me.”
While not rehearsing for Hadestown, Rutherford is currently writing his next album, in tentative talks with a theater company in Nova Scotia to produce a piece around his music using full-size black light puppets, and constantly working on different local bands. See him on stage in Hadestown running March 21st and 22nd at the Arden theater in St. Albert. Tickets for students with a valid ID are only $10 (and $32 for non-students) and available for purchase in person at the Arden Theater Box Office (5 St. Anne Street) or by phone at 780-459-1542. See you there!