Settling into the plush seats in the beautiful Cherry Lane theatre is a relaxing activity. Seeing Ode to Joy, the play by Craig Lucas, is anything but. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. The main character, Adele (Kathyn Erbe), struggles with addiction, love, and her art career, painfully messing up at every turn. You dig your nails into the armrests as you watch the horrors of alcohol and drug addiction ruin her life. It’s incredibly frustrating. The story is told in flashbacks, going back and forth between her two relationships. The first with Mala (Roxanna Hope), the snob, who, when she’s not selling pharmaceuticals, is whipping her hair in every direction known to mankind. Although an unlikely pair, Adele and Mala form an unusual relationship which mostly consists of loud arguments that solve no problems, but are entertaining. The second relationship is with Bill (Arliss Howard); and even though they are both much older, their actions are not that different from those of teenagers. They have the best repertoire, constantly exchanging views on Kierkegaard, Jesus, and irony. But the at first quick witted responses turn into sitcom jokes, as they drown themselves in vodka.
At this point it’s worthy to mention the gorgeous set done by Andrew Boyce and the lighting, done by Paul Whitaker. The set is a bar with magnificent glass windows, and endless amounts of liquor. The lighting is essential to the plot for all the flashbacks, and flows wonderfully with the play. As the story continues, things get more and more dismal. The acting is good; the writing is too; but the plot is so ruthless it’s difficult to watch. The longer the second half goes on, the less humor there is until you’re left with a dark dismal plotline that will most likely hit home. Seeing addiction played out so openly is scary. It’s an excruciatingly honest portrayal of how self destruction never truly ends. The performance has been extended until April 19. If you go, bring the Kleenexes.
image: New York Times