Tuesday, March 06, 2007

PLAY: "Bill W. and Dr. Bob"

Photo/T. Charles Erickson

Considering that Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a play about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, perhaps it's a good thing that the script, staging, and acting is so dry. Unfortunately, I am not a theatrical teetotaler -- I want my drama to get me drunk. For theatergoers who don't mind sipping from a lukewarm can of Pabst, Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a solidly flat night of history.

In just under two hours, the play speaks on alcoholism as a disease; unites the uncontrollably temperamental Bill Wilson (Robert Krakovski) with his childishly belligerent brother-in-arms, Dr. Bob Smith (Patrick Husted); and dramatizes their formation of and recruitment for AA. Playwrights Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey keep things light when they should be serious by overdosing on the self-deprecating humor, and when it's time to be serious, the actors belittle their too-scripted lines with hammed performances. Marc Carver manages to elevate his role (he plays all the unnamed men in the show) with some masterful character acting, but the overall pacing of this show can't be fixed with funny accents.

When Bill W. first meets Dr. Bob, he gives the Reader's Digest version of his first drink. Bill W. and Dr. Bob is very much a Reader's Digest version of a play. The edges have been softened, and characters don't hit rock bottom so much as skate softly across a slight depression. Because they haven't plummeted, their epiphanies are forced, and their performances remain more-or-less even, on account of having nowhere to go. The word "textbook" is a decent descriptor: director Rick Lombardo's superfluous additions of an onstage pianist (for "mood music") and needlessly shifting wooden panels are very by-the-book.

There are good moments in Bill W. and Dr. Bob, particularly when showing the power of brotherhood and simple communication to overcome even the strongest of liquid demons. But this good work is drowned out by a not-so-hidden agenda: the lionization of two people who, in all fairness, were more impressive when anonymous.

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