Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 1:31 pm | Fair 74º


Review: ‘Bill W. and Dr. Bob’ an Engaging Portrait of AA Founders

Humans have been indulging in alcohol for as many as 12,000 years, and most likely abusing it for as long. But when a caveman stumbled and fell into the fire one too many times while celebrating a successful mammoth hunt, did one of his compadres sit him down and tell him he had a problem?

It seems that seeking and offering help for alcohol abuse in any organized way is a 20th-century development.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob, by Happy Destiny Productions, continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Center Stage Theater, and was written by Samuel Shem and Janet Surry. It tells the story of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the two fathers of Alcoholics Anonymous, and how they met and joined forces. Individually coming to the conclusion that they had problems with alcohol, they together forged the framework of a recovery program based on mutual support, founding the organization in 1935.

The presentation of the play three years ago as the inaugural production of the company and last year’s release of biopic Bill W. indicate that the subject matter holds wide appeal.

Under the direction of Robert Riechel Jr., the story unfolds through a series of mostly short scenes and vignettes. It can seem choppy at times, but for the most part presents an engaging portrait of these two men and how their paths converged.

A simple but quite effective device — photographs of interior or exterior settings projected onto a backdrop — visually extend the space and give the viewer an immediate reference as to where each scene is taking place, aiding continuity.

John Leo Brindle does a great job of conveying Bill’s manic, passionate energy and drive. As his long-suffering wife, Lois, Jean Hall offers up a convincing portrait of a woman who loves her husband but has trouble understanding him, as much as she wants to support his efforts.

Tim Whitcomb, one of the show’s producers, portrays Dr. Bob, a gentle, down-to-earth surgeon who wrestles with his internal demons and drinks to dull their fury. Kathy Marden is his wife, Anne, who does her best to help while struggling to maintain her family and their standing in the community. Both actors reprise these parts from the 2010 production, and it is evident that they feel deep familiarity and comfort with the roles.

Ray Wallenthin and Kathleen Leary play multiple supporting parts, which generally works well. However, it can be difficult at times to distinguish Wallenthin’s various characters.

Anyone who has experience with their own alcohol abuse or that of loved ones may well recognize the pain and anguish the two main characters experience. Heart-wrenching scenes of their descents into despair are full of raw emotion. It is inspiring to know that from these depths, they rose to help many others after them — taking it one day at a time.

Tickets are $25 for general admission and $15 for students. Click here to order online.

— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >