Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review - Ode to Joy

I wish I knew what it is about Craig Lucas and his plays that shatter me so.  Every time I see one, I'm prepared to be devastated, but am surprised at the pain and recognition I feel again and again.  In the best theatrical way, of course.  But it's as if he has a window into my being, and it's difficult to shake off the terror that someone knows you too well (but not really at all).  And when that terror is then presented on stage...stand back.

Last night, I got a heavily discounted TDF ticket to see Craig's new play, Ode to Joy, at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Craig recently did an interview with the NY Times, talking about this play in reaction to his own life's travails.  I certainly had that interview in the back of my mind, at times, but the play itself grabbed me from the first moments.

Kathryn Erbe plays Adele, a painter, who we see at work in the opening scenes - suddenly, she's in excruciating pain.  Why?  She tells us, "This is the story about how the pain goes away," and we're in the middle of flashback scenes that tell the story of her last fourteen years.  She meets Bill, played beautifully by Arliss Howard, in a bar.  Their first scenes together, where they meet and find their chemistry and connection, are fantastic.  The dialogue is so smart and so real - flirtatious and scared and excited.  When Adele says "This is the best moment, my favorite," speaking of the beginning of a new relationship, you feel that.  You feel the happiness at the top of the hill, and yet you somehow know that the descent won't be as happy. 

photo credit: Sandra Coudert
We also see, in flashback, Adele's previous relationship with a sales exec, Mala, played by Roxanna Hope.  The scene where Mala is repulsed by Adele's artwork is so poignant yet with hysterically funny dialogue.  Craig seems to be having the artist vs audience vs critic argument with himself in these scenes, so the double-edged quality to the conversation is terrific.

Adele is an addict, both of alcohol and pills, and we see how her addiction plays out in her two relationships.  The scenes zig zag back and forth between time and story, yet the actors stay totally grounded and completely on top of where they are at all times.  They are each so flawed, yet understandable, that you are on each of their sides at various times throughout the play.  When we get to the last scene, back in Adele's studio as she's painting in pain, the characters have come full circle, yet still have so many revelations to share, it's almost overwhelming.

photo credit: Sandra Coudert
I acknowledge that at certain times, as a play, Ode to Joy wasn't always successful for me.  The first act, in my opinion, was nearly perfect.  But the second act became problematic in parts, mostly in how scenes lasted maybe a tad too long because of all the revelations.  But as a total emotional experience, Ode to Joy worked like gangbusters for me.  And maybe the difficult portions of the play were just a metaphor for the difficulties you have to go through in life to get to the good stuff (in this case, the transcendent last scene).  Or not.  Maybe I'm reaching.  But, seriously, all of the stuff that has come before comes flooding back at you in the faces of the three actors.  The pain, the loss, the love, the self-loathing, the need for forgiveness - it's all there.  As always, I was a sobbing mess by the end of the show.  I might have continued crying on the subway home.

I even woke up this morning with a new insight into my life and how I've lived it.  It rather shocked me.  It's honestly something I've never even considered before.  How can this play, which has nothing (really) to do with my life or my life experience, open me up in such a way?  That's the miracle of theater, folks.  And, for me, the miracle of a Craig Lucas play.  Your mileage, of course, may vary.

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