Watching Craig Lucas’s Ode to Joy feels a lot like speed eating: You cram in as much as your mouth can hold but you taste nothing and eventually wish you hadn’t ingested anything.
Among the topics that shoot glibly past in under two hours: addiction, recovery, codependency, cancer, pain, organ transplants, bisexuality, dogs that substitute for children, children with disabilities, dysfunctional families, Y2K, the art market, artistic integrity, spirituality, the mortality and divinity of Jesus Christ, “all of Kierkegaard,” and Socratic irony.
It’s no wonder that Adele, the artist around whom this emotional mess congeals, screams agonizingly whenever she raises her brush to paint. Who could endure it all (and why must we)?
Lucas, who also directs, seems unsure where to focus his attention or what emotions to play; the production careens along from clunky set change to histrionic breakup to fully clothed sex scene, with time for at least one sermon on the mount and loads of pithy groaners.
The well-seasoned cast (Kathryn Erbe as Adele, Roxanna Hope as her lover, Mala, and Arliss Howard as her husband, Bill) vomit in each other’s faces and wallow in blood and figurative guts. They’ve had better gigs.
Since Bill holds forth on irony, Ode to Joy’s saving grace would be if it were all a conceit for demonstrating the principle in action. After so many disasters finished off by Adele’s preachy, play-ending moral (“Joy, mutherfuckers!”), we were just not feeling it.