Review Roundup: “Ode to Joy,” with Kathryn Erbe

Sandra Coudert

“Law & Order: Criminal Intent” star Kathryn Erbe -- that’s Det. Alexandra Eames, to us -- plays an audacious painter struggling with illness and addiction in “Ode to Joy,” a new dramedy written and directed by Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss”) having its world premiere at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

The two-act, two-hour drama chronicles the destructive relationships Adele (Erbe) enters into with Bill (Arliss Howard, of “Moneyball”), a cardiac surgeon, and Mala (Roxana Hope, of Broadway’s “Frost/Nixon”), a drug sales rep who has a mysterious ailment that endangers her heart.

The first act of “Ode to Joy” chronicles the swell of emotions we feel when a new love comes into our lives. The second deals with the recriminations of the lies and abandonments that, in sadder cases, may follow. Here’s what some of the New York critics had to say.

Jason Clark, Entertainment Weekly: “One of Lucas' most envied specialties is his gift of gab … Erbe, in her best stage outing to date, makes Adele not just a neurotic, quippy basket case but a fully lived-in being. By filling in some of Lucas’s conceptual gulfs, she keeps ‘Ode to Joy’ from turning into ‘Days of Whine and Poses.’”

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: “The author of great toxic fairy tales for grown-ups, Mr. Lucas here suspends the storybook whimsy to give us a more straightforward look at people battling with the ogres of contemporary life via alcohol, drugs, sex and, finally, 12-step self-analysis. … But if ‘Ode to Joy’ sometimes sounds like a rambling apologia pro vita sua, it holds the attention. … As an actress, Ms. Erbe is naturally immune to melodrama, even when she’s in the middle of it.”

Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: “It is an affair filled with booze, drugs, howls, a heart transplant, and the first instance I can recall where one actor clearly and visibly vomits into the mouth of another. Ah, stagecraft!”

David Gordon, TheaterMania: “A sensitive work that depicts the effects of addiction on one’s romantic partners, the play is a return to form for the author. … The fundamental flaw of the script is that there are a number of events in Adele’s history, past and future, that the characters mention but Lucas doesn’t depict. As a result of our hearing these things secondhand, they don't match up to the version of her that we see and that Erbe plays. … Erbe is a magnetic presence, and it's absolutely clear why both Howard and Hope’s characters would be drawn to her.”

Brace Cove, TheBroadwayBlog: “How could a play with such subject matter end up so flat? Climactic moments that hold the promise of reaching the audience lack the pathos that the script promises but doesn’t deliver. Lucas sets a lot of the more dramatic and theatrical alcoholic machinations offstage. The audience hears about them in Act II but only by proxy. However, the biggest problem onstage is the lack of human connection.”

“Ode to Joe,” through March 30, at The Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St. Tickets: $66, available via or by calling 866-811-4111.

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

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