HATTheatre’s ‘Bill W. and Dr. Bob’ tells one of the most important stories in recent history
Bill W. and Dr. Bob, HATTheatre’s entry in the 2017 Acts of Faith festival tells the story of a remarkable friendship – arguably one of the most important in history. And one that has saved millions of lives.
Bill Wilson (Chris Hester) was living large as a New York stockbroker when the crash of 1929 sent him spiraling towards booze.
In and out of treatment, he eventually ends up under the care of a doctor who has radical ideas about alcoholism. This doctor believes – and convinces Bill – that alcoholism is a disease; a physical allergy leading to a mental obsession. Not a character flaw.
This revelation and a Belladonna induced “spiritual awakening” would bring about Bill’s sobriety.
His introduction to, and lifelong friendship with Dr. Bob, would keep him sober.
Dr. Bob (Ken Moretti) is a surgeon in Akron, Ohio who often shows up hung-over to operate. He is slowly killing himself with alcohol and desperate to give up drinking. He just can’t do it alone. And dozens of rehab attempts have failed.
When Bill W. ends up on a failed business trip in Akron, he is tempted to turn towards booze. Instead, he consults a church directory, making random calls to strangers hoping for an introduction to an alcoholic. He is convinced that he will only stay sober by talking to another “drunk.”
The rest is history.
Bill convinced Dr. Bob that alcoholism was a disease, and that the cure was to help other alcoholics. That serendipitous (or maybe Higher Power-inspired) meeting would form the seeds of Alcoholics Anonymous. The pair set out to find a third drunk. And form one of AA’s central tenets. Fellowship.
The friendship formed by the wives (Lois Wilson and Anne Smith) is portrayed well by Grey Garrett (Lois) and Patricia Alli (Anne)– and we get a glimpse of the camaraderie that would form the basis of Al-anon and the recognition that alcoholism doesn’t just impact the drinker. It’s a family disease.
That’s a lot of material to fit into a 90-minute show.
The story is truly remarkable, and perhaps too rich and nuanced to fit into a neat and tidy condensed version. Director Scott Wichmann does an admirable job coaxing as much emotional impact out of the over-telling script as is possible.
Hester and Moretti give strong performances, but some key emotional moments feel rushed (again, by the script, not the performances) in order to move on to the next story arc – which covers a span of about ten years.
The set is sparse but impactful – and Audra Honaker (playing several minor women characters) and David Janosik (playing several minor male characters) offer solid performances and comic relief.
Bill W. and Dr. Bob continues through February 25. Tickets can be purchased by calling 804-343-6364.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
There is simply no separation of audience from stage… just as there are no bystanders to the horrors of war.March 15, 2017
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