Bill W and Dr. Bob – Backstage West

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Bill W and Dr. Bob – Backstage West 2011-07-29T07:44:27+00:00

Backstage West

Some have greatness thrust upon them. During the 1930s hapless Wall Street broker Bill W. often fell down drunk in Brooklyn streets and hotel lobbies. Obscure physician Dr. Bob operated on patients in an alcoholic haze. Yet these unlikeliest of heroes became two of the 20th century’s greatest men. Millions of “sober” alcoholics now bless them as such. The extraordinary story of Alcoholics Anonymous is simply and powerfully told in Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey’s docudrama. It is given special resonance by so many in its audience who lived through the shame and agony of alcoholism and who return again and again to see this play as catharsis and tribute. Director Ronnie Marmo writes in program notes: “Bill W. and Dr. Bob saved the lives of millions, including my own…. I am passionate about telling this story.” Passion is felt in the urgency, honesty, and power of this simple staging.

Charles Hoyes and Art LaFleur, big men of solid substance, look more like real people–the ones they play–than actors. But fine actors they are, who couldn’t be more perfectly cast as visionary Bill W. and cynical secret toper Dr. Bob, who drunkenly admits, “All I ever wanted was to have curly hair, play the piano, and tap-dance.” Trouble is, when Doc drinks he thinks he can. When he doesn’t drink, “I’m a monster, can’t function, with or without it, I’m a bastard.” Shame, humiliation, suffering, and, most excruciating, helplessness of alcoholics is seen in short dramatic scenes that lead to a climactic meeting in 1935 Akron, Ohio. In the Mayflower Hotel lobby after a business deal that went badly, Bill, “sober” for months, drawn toward a bar that beckons, gets a hunch: He has to talk with another alcoholic.

He finds Dr. Bob. Their talk that night, “a miracle,” went on for six hours and became the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous. If Bill and Bob were heroes, Bill’s wife, Lois, and Bob’s wife, Anne (sensitively played by Andrea Birkman and Cathrine Grace), were heroines of superhuman patience and loyalty. The accomplished cast also includes MichaelThauer, Tommy Colavito, Susan D. Little, and Karalee Austin. Tyler Christopher, cast as lawyer Billy D, who joined the two founders as A.A.’s “Third Alcoholic” mentor and mainstay, was called to a film job. Marmo filled in commendably on the night seen and will do so on the show’s concluding weekend.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob served the fallen selflessly, tirelessly, with rare humility and no thought of recompense. How heartening to know such men exist. Heartening, too, is this 68 Cent Crew of dedicated theatre lovers whose passion, commitment, and cordiality shine through.

By Polly Warfield

Bill W and Dr. Bob

Backstage West

Some have greatness thrust upon them. During the 1930s hapless Wall Street broker Bill W. often fell down drunk in Brooklyn streets and hotel lobbies. Obscure physician Dr. Bob operated on patients in an alcoholic haze. Yet these unlikeliest of heroes became two of the 20th century’s greatest men. Millions of “sober” alcoholics now bless them as such. The extraordinary story of Alcoholics Anonymous is simply and powerfully told in Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey’s docudrama. It is given special resonance by so many in its audience who lived through the shame and agony of alcoholism and who return again and again to see this play as catharsis and tribute. Director Ronnie Marmo writes in program notes: “Bill W. and Dr. Bob saved the lives of millions, including my own…. I am passionate about telling this story.” Passion is felt in the urgency, honesty, and power of this simple staging.

Charles Hoyes and Art LaFleur, big men of solid substance, look more like real people–the ones they play–than actors. But fine actors they are, who couldn’t be more perfectly cast as visionary Bill W. and cynical secret toper Dr. Bob, who drunkenly admits, “All I ever wanted was to have curly hair, play the piano, and tap-dance.” Trouble is, when Doc drinks he thinks he can. When he doesn’t drink, “I’m a monster, can’t function, with or without it, I’m a bastard.” Shame, humiliation, suffering, and, most excruciating, helplessness of alcoholics is seen in short dramatic scenes that lead to a climactic meeting in 1935 Akron, Ohio. In the Mayflower Hotel lobby after a business deal that went badly, Bill, “sober” for months, drawn toward a bar that beckons, gets a hunch: He has to talk with another alcoholic.

He finds Dr. Bob. Their talk that night, “a miracle,” went on for six hours and became the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous. If Bill and Bob were heroes, Bill’s wife, Lois, and Bob’s wife, Anne (sensitively played by Andrea Birkman and Cathrine Grace), were heroines of superhuman patience and loyalty. The accomplished cast also includes MichaelThauer, Tommy Colavito, Susan D. Little, and Karalee Austin. Tyler Christopher, cast as lawyer Billy D, who joined the two founders as A.A.’s “Third Alcoholic” mentor and mainstay, was called to a film job. Marmo filled in commendably on the night seen and will do so on the show’s concluding weekend.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob served the fallen selflessly, tirelessly, with rare humility and no thought of recompense. How heartening to know such men exist. Heartening, too, is this 68 Cent Crew of dedicated theatre lovers whose passion, commitment, and cordiality shine through.

By Polly Warfield

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