JOY OF THE DESOLATE, Apple Tree Theatre. What’s most effective about Oliver Mayer’s semiautobiographical play–which concerns a Native American Ivy League freshman who loses his father, finds faith in a choir, and becomes involved in a love triangle with a sweet singer and her fiery baritone boyfriend–is its ability to convey the transcendent quality of both sacred and secular music. In Apple Tree’s elegant, exceedingly well cast production directed by Geraint Wyn Davies, the first-act scenes–in which DC finds his musical voice with the help of the college’s stern yet generous choir leader and a doubting pastor who rediscovers her own faith–are truly transporting.

But the second act is full of dreamy digressions, including DC’s Oedipal fantasies about his hippie mother and an imagined encounter with doomed singer Donny Hathaway. These scenes detract from the plot and from some of Mayer’s more intriguing characters, such as DC’s witty, gay, black roommate and a saintly prostitute DC befriends. Ultimately far too little of the drama approaches the soaring majesty of the music performed by the characters.

–Adam Langer