It is a memory play and shifts in time and space but always with a narrative from the central character so we the audience do not get confused.
The play starts off with some humor. Adele (Kathryn Erbe) literally falls into the arms of Bill (Arliss Howard) in a bar. Their drunken attempts at romance are thwarted by clumsy collisions, a disturbing but creative vomit episode, and an ample amount of blood, but the relationship survives.
Surviving seems to be a key point here. In a scene eight years prior, Adele’s girlfriend Mala (Roxanna Hope) is stricken with a complicated heart issue which causes her to faint spontaneously, which the actress does deftly.
Bill has prostate cancer and Adele has various and sundry addictions which are referred to by Bill as a choice and not a disease, as he can’t choose not to have cancer. Not a popular argument in this day and time and a position of much debate.
Because we are invested in the characters and like them, there is some humor to be found in the evolution of Adele’s relatonships and we root for her, even in the midst of her dysfunction. That changed for me in the second act.
The second act has a lot less laughs and is decidedly preachy. I cared less about the characters as they were all behaving badly so any alliance we made in Act One came into question. The fluidity of the piece which seemed so natural in Act One faltered and the play took on a disjointed effect.
Some scenes were too long, another (a break-up scene) was so muddled, I had a difficult time understanding the actions or agendas of either character.
Now, I know breakups are traditionally rife with conflicting feelings, but not usually within moments of each other. Mala’s rationale for staying with Adele was she feared a Y2K apocalypse, yet when that did not happen, her emotions ran the gamut without much input from Adele.
I was distracted by Mala’s modern Apple computer and the speed at which it connected. I was trying to remember how many average people I knew in 1999 with laptops. I came up with one.
I don’t want to dwell on plot points that annoyed me, as I still think the play has value.
It was written and directed by Craig Lucas whose body of work speaks for itself. My personal favorite has always been “Blue Window,” though “The Light In The Piazza” is more widely recognized. Lucas has a good ear for dialogue and is knows his way around Kierkegaard, religion and art, but at 2 hours and 15 minutes in a small, cramped theater, it could use some selective trimming.
The sets and lighting definitely created the proper mood, the changes done swiftly and efficiently. All three actors were able to convey the passage of time seamlessly, but the scene that advanced fourteen years left me with more questions than answers. The latter would have been most helpful and appreciated.
“Ode to Joy,” despite its flaws is worth seeing.
Its message of ferreting out what little joy can be found retroactively in moments of misery, pain and suffering is a virtue I am severely lacking at this juncture.