Is alcoholism a disease? Certainly the psychiatric community has categorized it as such. Nevertheless, a popular consensus still views alcohol addiction as more a flaw of character than an issue of mental or physical health.
Still, the most successful approach to recovery from alcoholism is, arguably, Alcoholics Anonymous. One AA’s founders are Bill W; he drank his final libation on December 11, 1931. Cofounder, Dr. Bob has his final drunken rampage on June 10, 1935. The 2 men met a month previous to Bob’s concluding bout with “adult” beverage.
What mysterious chemistry lead to Bill and Bob’s unlikely teaming? According to Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey’s play, “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” it was that “invisible thread” that links us all. Moreover, psychiatrist Carl Jung- the great innovator ofearly psychology – suggested that in order to overcome dependence on spirits, one must have a “spiritual awakening.” Bill W. took Dr. Jung’s insight to heart and, eventually, so did Dr. Bob.
Directed by Ronnie Marmo, this 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” is an emotionally resonate retelling of AA’s founding. A 20th Century icon of self-help and peer support, Alcoholics Anonymous laid the template for 12-step programs of all sorts. This well-crated and sturdily staged docudrama reveals the history and spirit behind the 12-steps, while allowing us to understand the turmoil and alienation of substance abuse.
As Bill W., Charles Hoyes is as natural and in the moment as any actor could possibly be. So convincing is Hoyes that we ache when he feels pain; we tear up when he cries.
Art Lafleur is substantial as Dr. Bob. Lafleur’s performance is crafted to the extent that he ad Dr. Bob seem indistinguishable. Lafleur’s drunken tragic, that we sit amazed by the profundity and intensity of this portrayal.
As a delightful surprise, the play introduces us to the spouses of Bill And Dr. Bob-Lois and Anne, respectively. Together these long suffering ladies founded Al-Anon, a support group for family and friends of alcoholics.
Several supporting performances are also noteworthy, particularly Debi Hall, as Henrietta and John L. Badder, as Ebby T. Each actor infuses his or her characterization with a familiarity that makes history and legend come alive.
What’s more, Danny Cistones’ set design is a tribute to weaving magic from low-budget mayhem. Offering two-dozen variabtions of time and place in a 2 and a half hour production is, in fact, a man made miracle. Also Wendy Marmo’s musical supervision; Danny Cistones’ lighting; and Diana Sukos’ costumes all provide enhancement to this fine staging of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.”
Lois is exquisitely portrayed by Andrea Birkman. When Birkman decries her Character’s loneliness, we know her pain and wish for its mitigation.
Deborah Geffner, as Anne, parallels Brickman’s agony as only a fellow traveler could. The synchronicity-to empty Jungian binocular-of these two characters seems, simultaneously, honest and unlikely. Nevertheless, their story is a matter of record.
By Ben Miles