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.

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