When the Art Institute of Chicago commissioned me to tell the story of Hercules for an exhibition, I wasn’t aware that the glossy hero Hollywood had told me about was actually a sociopath and killer. His temper was volcanic and nobody near him was safe. This is the actual myth we’re talking about.
In order to free himself from the guilt of murdering his young family in a blind rage, Hercules is given a way out: ten labors (it ends up twelve). Worse, he must perform them for his weak, cowardly cousin, the king of Mycenae. It makes for a good story, though, how his cousin hates him and tries to send Hercules on labors that will kill him. The Nemean Lion, for instance, has a hide that blades or arrows cannot pierce. Hercules breaks its neck and ends up skinning it with its own claw, hollowing out its skull and wearing the dead lion as a helmet and robe. After that, arrows bounce off him.
Later, as poison blood hisses onto his lion’s skin, he kills the Hydra by knocking off its many heads, but makes a fateful mistake by dipping his arrows in the blood, which kills on contact like VX. That one act haunts his life and in the end, kills him. But being less than immortal, he can’t know that will be his end. At first he thinks nothing of people, or of slaying them, until after his labors he is forced to live as a woman and a slave for three years. Something in him changes and he is free to love again, but even so, he must still kill again to save his newlywed wife.
Hercules in Hell is a full-blown immersion into Greek mythology, told in a very fun way. Lots of amusing character voices and a score on 12-string guitar. The show is on the The Boston Calendar. 8 pm, Sunday April 23rd. Tickets are here.