The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

Search Curtainup








NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Ode to Joy

I can't bear this.—Mala

Then leave! Youre not an addict and you haven't been on my very special journey, but I'm duty-bound to feel this pain because I am not dying. If I were, I'd take the pills, but I'm not, so I'm sticking with my fate, embracing it, Joy!— Adele
 Ode to Joy
Kathryn Erbe, Arliss Howard (Photo: Sandra Coudert)
Craig Lucas's new play at Rattlestick's second home, the Cherry Lane Theater, is named for the choral movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. This probably best known of classical music works of all time, has been subject to many interpretations. No doubt Ode to Joy, the play, will also have audiences pondering its meaning. But, while Beethoven's symphony is loved even by non-classical music fans, Lucas's play is difficult to love even though Kathryn Erbe is superb in depicting her character's painful trajectory through passion, addiction and illness.

An interview with Lucas by Bob Morrister ("The Theater of Faith'and Doubt, Love and Pain", New York Times, February 25) describes Ode to Joy as a "romantic comedy." The play's flashbacks to Adele's (Erbe) first encounters with Bill (Arliss Howard) and Mala (Roxanna Hope), her male and female lovers, are indeed the stuff of that genre.

But this is no ode to the joy of falling in love. Instead, as directed by the author, it's an unsettling and rather muddled mashup of his own history; as well as that of his mother who, like Adele, was a painter with addiction problems. Since Lucas is a prolific, well known stage and screen writer and director (his resume includes librettos for successful musicals like Light in the Piazza, hit plays like Reckless and Prelude to a Kiss, and television dramas like Longtime Companion) this may appear to be mostly his mother's less familiar story. But, as the above mentioned interview explains, addiction can result not just in squandered talent but unwise management of one's financial resources.

Sadly, a play illustrating the horrible toll of addiction is especially timely coming as it does so soon after the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who, unlike Lucas, was at the very pinnacle of his career, but nevertheless succumbed to long kept in check addiction. It's too bad that though the problem of addiction is indeed worth exploring dramatically, Adele's story is too heavily weighed down with philosophical discussions and Alcoholics Anonymous business (much of which is currently being questioned). The basic dual theme — the truth is difficult and we can't rely on lovers to help us face life's darkness— is more an O'Neill flavored picture of one woman's long years' journey into sobriety and determination not to compromise herself by creating more saleable and less disturbing art.

Frustrating, and in one instance unpalatable, as many audience members are likely to find Ode to Joy, Mr. Lucas, wearing his hat as a director has elicited fine support for Ms. Erbe's Adele. Arliss Howard is particularly good in the scene where his also addicted and neurotic doctor and Adele meet, get drunk and fall in love. Their weighty talk about Kierkegaard, inconsistency and the meaning of love is buoyed by their instant rapport and a loud recording of Beethoven's finale making her amusingly mis-hear his telling her what he does as actor instead of doctor.

The fifteen years between the bookend scenes showing Adele painting even though she is in agonizing pain, hopscotch between the Adele-Marla affair that precedes the Adele-Bill meeting, marriage and divorce. The first meeting with Marla, like that with Bill, provides some much needed humor. It also gives us an idea of why Adele's canvases, which we never see, aren't selling.

A park bench scene between Adele and Bill is an obvious take on some sort of confessional script that's part of AA's 12-step program. It works mostly as a filler to update us on events not part of the on stage happenings.

The production elements are fine. The scene during which Mala is hospitalized with the medical staff appearing as shadowy figures behind a curtain is particularly effective. But Mala's declaration of "I can't stand this" when confronted with Adele's pain is likely to be the reaction of a good many audience members, as was the case of the substantial number of intermission walkouts at the performance I attended.

Ode to Joy
Written and directed by Craig Lucas
Cast: Kathryn Erbe, Roxanna Hope and Arliss Howard
Set design by Andrew Boyce
Costume design by Catherine Zuber
Lighting design by Paul Whitaker
Sound design by Daniel Kluger
Props: Raphael Mishler
Special Effects: James Hunting
Fight direction: Unkledave's Fight-House
Stage Manager,Michael Denis
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street.
From 2/12/14; opening 2/27/14; closing 4/13/14
Tuesday through Fridays at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm.
Individual tickets $66. Student tickets are $21; under-30 tickets are $26.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/24 press preview
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Ode to Joy
  • I disagree with the review of Ode to Joy
  • The review made me eager to see Ode to Joy
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2014, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from