Patrick Page is no stranger to the storm.
The actor, who recently left the long-running hit musical Hadestown after six years as the King of the Underworld, has found a home in recent years as a figure of significant gravitas and intimidation; kings, judges, and gods pepper his resume. It’s an association the shy Page would have never made without hindsight.
“One of the most remarkable things about being an actor is how the process of playing over time wakes you up,” Page explains, his voice low and crackling, as if to reduce his natural resonance. “When you’re young, you’re moving too quickly to notice. As you get older, you begin to hear what the melody of your life has always been.”
Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Page was an early devotee of Shakespeare, attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as a toddler when his father, a theatre educator, performed there. Throughout grade school and college, he was a leading member on the national speech and debate circuit, becoming the first person to ever win the Speaker of the Year championship title twice. A naturally shy person, the structure of performance allowed him to assume a position of power.
The role of Hades in Hadestown was, in many ways, a culmination. After decades of playing characters in positions of extreme power (the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Page was able to deconstruct the ways in which that power had walled both he and his characters off from the outside world.
“Power is an obstacle to vulnerability. What Hades wants more than anything in the world is to repair his relationship with Persephone. He makes the mistake of believing he can do it through the exercise of power,” says Page, his impish smile coloring his voice. “It’s kind of peacocking. And of course, it’s completely the wrong way to go with her. ‘I’ll show Persephone what a big man I am.’ Orpheus, through his incredible spirit, opens up Hades… some light can come through a crack in the wall that Hades represents.”
When Page first stepped into the developmental process of Hadestown in 2016, he was at a crossroads. A “lifelong depressive,” he had attempted various methods of self medicating from an early age, with alcohol addiction proving to be the most destructive. Finding that light, and cracking open the walls he had built to protect himself, became paramount for his survival.
“Suffering is opening up to new beginnings” Page explains. “You begin to relearn, to see and feel other people.”
Page made a conscious choice to open up about his struggles following the suicide of Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark projectionist Jason Lindahl. It was the wakeup call that Page needed. He penned an extensive open letter for BroadwayWorld, confessing to decades of struggles hidden behind a carefully constructed public facade.
“I knew how to hide,” Page wrote. “In over 20 years of recurring and crippling depressions, I had never missed a performance. Never been late to a rehearsal. Never let on that I was frequently in agonizing pain. No one knew, except my therapist and my wife.”
In journal entries Page has made public, he detailed using his deteriorating mental state as fuel for the characters he played, including infusing his own nervous breakdown into the role of Claudius in Hamlet. To the outside world, he was a deeply committed actor. Inside, he was suffering unimaginable pain.
The role of Hades was his near constant companion to his struggles as he played out the breaking of the cycle night after night; eventually, he found the strength to become sober, and was soon documenting that journey publicly on social media to encourage others to take the first step.
That's not to say Page regrets his hard journey. "If I could tap 45-year-old Patrick on the shoulder and say, 'Patrick, you really shouldn’t drink that much Jack Daniels, because I think you’re an alcoholic and this is going to go very badly for you if you keep this up.' Well, I would do that," Page admits. "But what I know is that going through that particular crucible was a path that brought me to a much greater understanding of who I am, and how I want to relate to people."
His next step? Page admits he did not take the decision to leave Hadestown lightly. After all, it was a risk to leave a plum part in a successful show that had supported his journey toward stability. In the end, he knew he had to leave his comfort zone to begin the next phase of his life. “It’s not a decision one makes with one’s head. There’s something in the gut, in the heart, that says it’s time to move on,” he admits. “You can’t make art from a comfortable place, and I was very comfortable.”
Page is trading in playing King of the Underworld in Hadestown for another tortured king: Lear, at Washington D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company. In many ways, assuming the role of the tormented King allows him to remake himself anew—much like the character.
“When he loses that title,” Page extrapolates, referring to Lear’s renouncement of the throne, “and then loses everything that goes along with it— his clothes, his family, his home, the respect others had for him, his followers, and finally his sanity—at that point he had a chance of becoming a human being.”
King Lear, which begins performances February 23, has already extended once through April 2. As he dons the all-too-heavy crown, Page stands tall.
“King Lear is an epic series of questions—not a series of answers,” Page opines, equally thoughtful and instructive. “When one talks about Lear, one doesn’t really talk about morals or lessons, but rather about predicaments, dilemmas, questions, crises. Lear cannot learn who he is while he is king. It is too much of an impediment to enlightenment.” Thankfully, Page now carries his own crack-in-the-wall to light the way; the King may fall, but the Man still stands.
Regret, and the inability to undo one’s choices, is a throughline throughout Page’s career, and his own life. Learning to live with regret, rather than being swallowed by shame, is a tightrope he has learned to maneuver. Now 60 years old, he is embracing this new phase of his life, making peace with the past as he steps forward into his future.
“You have to feel regret fully," he says softly, yet emphatically. "It’s not a step you can skip. It might be among the most painful things one can do, to really look at the damage in detail and not run away. You have to look at it, feel it, and then let it pass. Moving forward is going to be scary. Regret could be the thing that allows you to stay where you are. ‘Oh, I just have so many regrets, I can’t move forward.’ That’s not the way. You have to keep moving.”