Bill W. and Dr. Bob: in brief
Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey's bioplay looks at Alcoholics Anonymous cofounders Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, whose partnership saved them from lives on the rocks. Six years after the play's New York debut, Seth Gordon directs a revival.
Bill W. and Dr. Bob: theater review by David Cote
My name is David and…I’m a theater critic. Hi, everybody. So, um. Never thought I’d come to one of these meetings. I always scoffed at support-group dramas. But then I saw this one about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous…. Actually, Bill W. and Dr. Bob hits neither brilliance nor rock bottom in the overcoming-addiction genre; its theatrical virtues are less important than its social value. Judging by the murmurs of assent and generous laughter when I attended, it seems that 12-steppers are turning out to honor the men in the title.
Moving forward from the Great Crash to the 1950s, the narrative focuses tightly on its two heroes. Bill Wilson (Patrick Boll) is a charismatic stock broker who drinks himself into a stupor regularly. Bob Smith (Timothy Crowe) is a starchy physician and secret boozehound. The minute his wife leaves the house, the good doctor medicates with Scotch. The scenes of these otherwise decent fellows getting blotto are so grim, you’ll be ready to swear off summer cocktails. Wilson joins a Christian temperance group and becomes a fiery evangelist for sobriety. Eventually, he meets Smith,and they realize that only fellow drinkers can help each other stay off the bottle, talking it out.
Coauthors Sam Shem and Janet Surrey’s earnest, episodic script is peppered with humor, but doesn’t go very deep into either man’s personality. In psychological terms, the play eschews a Freudian reading of the alcoholic mind in favor of straight-up behavior modification through group social dynamics—the classic meeting where you share your story and feel part of a community. Still, the cast is capable and staged efficiently by Seth Gordon. For those in recovery, the piece offers solace; others won’t find it too much of a temptation.—Theater review by David Cote
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