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BWW Reviews: Lucas Tackles Addiction in ODE TO JOY

It's all fun and games until your bar pick-up throws up in your mouth.

Roxanna Hope and Kathryn Erbe
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)

And perhaps the slyest part of Craig Lucas' new play of alcohol addiction, Ode To Joy, is that it comes off as a cute romantic comedy of loveably quirky intellectual elitists for the bulk of act one before the second half allows the troubling nature of the subject to rise to the surface.

But by then audience members may have been so captivated by the amusing antics of the initial hour that, like delusional enablers, they willingly endure the ambitious, but underwhelming second one in hopes that it will suddenly be cured of its fuzzy dramatics and return to being enjoyably clever.

After a brief moment that establishes the play as memories from years ago, Andrew Boyce's versatile set begins as a bar that suggests a kind of shrine to alcohol, where niche artist Adele is asking for a double vodka on the rocks and for the somber music being played to be replaced with something more joyful.

Adele is a painter whose work is considered worthy of major newsprint coverage but is nevertheless struggling financially. As played by Kathryn Erbe, her appearance and voice are soft and girlish, but her work (never seen) apparently contains disturbing and violent depictions.

Arliss Howard and Kathryn Erbe
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)

She meets Bill (Arliss Howard), a nebbishy cardiac surgeon who says he's grieving over the loss of his pregnant wife, and they bond over several cocktails and discussions of Kierkegaard, God and the true meaning of irony before deciding what breed of dog they're going to adopt together.

Meanwhile, we also see flashbacks of the beginning of Adele's relationship with Mala (crisp and mature Roxanna Hope), a pharmaceutical executive who visits her studio to consider buying a painting. Though Mala is turned off by Adele's subject matter ("Do you have something...without...uh, dread?"), she's turned on by the artist's passionate defense of her work and invites her out on a date.

Over dinner, Adele finds out first-hand that Mala is prone to blacking out on occasion due to heart issues. But she snaps out quickly and shrugs it off as nothing to be concerned about.

Lucas, who also directs, keeps these expositional points light-hearted and quite funny, but once he begins showing how Adele's alcoholism consistently destroys her relationships, the play begins to stumble and drag considerably. Mala and Bill talk of events where they say she acted selfishly, but we never see them. In an angry moment, Bill describes her behavior in a way that is never evident.

Perhaps it's because Adele is the storyteller that we never see an uglier side of her, giving little weight to the intended dramatic moments. Despite a strong ensemble working well together, Ode To Joy turns out to be little more than good for a laugh.

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