Kathryn Erbe: An Actress Full of Joy

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Film, Theater.


The actress discusses her new Off-Broadway role

Kathryn Erbe has applesauce in her hair. Yes, applesauce. It’s not a trendy new Goop recommendation or anything, just remnants from a particularly icky scene from rehearsal for Ode to Joy, the new Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Dying Gaul) comedy-drama opening at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Thursday. But even that isn’t enough to rattle her positive spirit.

Photo by Sandra Coudert

Photo by Sandra Coudert

The applesauce isn’t supposed to be in her hair at all, actually, but these things happen. (For those trying to figure it out, it’s supposed to resemble vomit. You want to know more? Go see the show.)

And it’s not even the craziest thing that happens to Adele, Erbe’s character, an addicted painter involved in two destructive relationships in this Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production, which Lucas directs as well.

“Adele is a romantic,” Erbe asserts, “she is a glass half full person and she believes in love. She believes that things are going to work out. And that she’s going to be okay if that belief is threatened at points. She doesn’t know how much trouble she is in and she tries to get her life back – but she’s very positive.”

The same can be said of Erbe herself, who makes a point of acknowledging the many blessings she herself has enjoyed both personally and in her career. She was in her twenties when she made her Broadway debut in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Tony for Best Play. The following year, she herself received a Featured Actress in a Play nomination for Steve Tesich’s The Speed of Darkness and got even more exposure with a role in the hit comedy What About Bob?, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray. Several years later, she took on the lead role of Alexandra Eames on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a role she played in various capacities until 2013 (including appearances on sister show L&O: Special Victims Unit).

Following her television success, Erbe made a conscious decision to stay in New York and focus on local theatre.

“Working with Rattlestick was exactly what I needed,” Erbe said of her choice. It began several seasons ago when she took on the role of a deeply troubled mother in the show Yosemite, written by Rattlestick literary manager Daniel Talbott. “It is such an enriching part of my life. We’re creating these magical pieces and supporting new voices. Saying yes has opened up a whole new world for me. It’s rejuvenating.”

Erbe feels an immense amount of trust with what she refers to as her “new family.” After Yosemite, “David Van Asselt, who is the artistic director of Rattlestick, said “ ‘I am going to find something for you,’ but a lot of people say that and don’t deliver,” Erbe admits. But Van Asselt came through, inviting her to participate in an early public reading of Joy.

“And the audience just loved it.” Joy is a challenging play that has its share of moving moments, but Erbe confirms that it is also plenty of fun – both onstage and backstage.

“Craig is one of the funniest people I have ever met,” she says. “We laugh a lot. The writing is so buoyant and we’re finding ways to make it more so and get down in the depths that these characters go in. It doesn’t feel like a burden but a blessing, and I am in such good company up there.”

In fact, adding to the family feel is the casting of Arliss Howard, with whom she has worked in Chicago, as her co-star. Still, in addition to the laughs, Erbe feels Lucas has a genuine statement to make about addictive personalities – and it’s one that jives with her own positive outlook on life.

“Addicts share something that other people maybe don’t have and that can seem like a negative,” she explains. “There are things that can happen in our lives that we think are tragedies or mortal wounds that end up being the thing that saves us, and brings us into a different consciousness. Addiction is a blessing.”

And there’s that word again. It seems the title of her current play couldn’t seem to be any more apt for Erbe – as long her hair stays condiment-free in the future. Further information about Ode to Joy can be found at www.rattlestick.org/ode-joy.

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