Trying to explain the power of "Bill W. and Dr. Bob" to friends the other night, I knew my enthusiasm was not coming across. We were at the end of a long talky dinner; what needed to be said required more time. Or was it that the idea of a play about AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) either piques your interest right away or does not. The moment I saw the ad for previews, mentioned it to Ron, it was on our calendar.
But will you care? The acting is very powerful--particularly by the two men playing the founders of AA. Alcoholism has surrounded my own adult life. If it has not come into yours, I'm surprised. So many of us drank too much in 1950s and 60s in New York City. Me too. That it never took over probably has more to do with luck than anything else. Golden-Daze Ginnie is an elderblog where I found a woman my age who lived in the same time in the City. She wrote about her struggles and her recovery in a way that touched me deeply. Perhaps she will tell readers of this blog where those posts can be found in her 2006 archives.
In the mid-seventies, I did not learn much in a one-credit class on substance abuse in my graduate studies in social work. Too bad: I was living in Baltimore, a very wet town. In my psychotherapy practice women and men often arrived with the struggle of living with an alcoholic parent or spouse. Or their own unacknowledged substance abuse.
By chance again, my consciousenss was raised when Ron connected with two men who were starting a therapy group for "impaired" physicians. Translation: alcoholic and drug abusing doctors. The three of them led the first group organized by Maryland medical society's to require these doctors to attend. Finally, through their work and further education, I began to learn what I had missed. My work with clients took on greater depth.
Chance is how Bill W., trying to stay sober, and Dr. Bob, a falling-down drunk, met. The playwrights are a married couple--Stephen Bergman, a psychiatrist, Janet Surrey, psychologist, who had worked with many alcoholics. We were fortunate to attend one of the "talk-back" previews. Dr. Bergman, after audience questions, said he wanted to know if the work had resonance for those with no connection to substance abuse. Behind me, a woman immediately spoke up, "Did for me. I came here tonight knowing nothing about this and really got drawn in."
At the play's website, billwanddrbob.com, there's more about the play, video interviews. This is an open run which seems to mean that everyone involved is waiting to see how the public responds. It sold out in Boston; I hope it runs a very long time in New York.
Yesterday a very positive review appeared in the New York Time. In her review, Gina Bellafante, points out how successfully the playwrights reveal the struggle that went into the bonding between Bill W and Dr. Bob, and how this interpretation demystifies the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
...perhaps even in an unintentional way, [the play] releases Wilson from the trap of hagiography that the culture has kept him in...He is all showman all the time--a very unlikely savior. But that, perhaps, is the point.
Two notes I'll add. The live piano often playing in the background works well with the all the set changes. With few props, the sense of bar, upper class home, hotel--many scene changes-- worked well. The wives of Bob and Bill come across as both long-suffering and sturdy; these two actresses deserve more notice in reviews along with Marc Carver, an actor who morphs through twelve supporting roles--from hospital doctor to reluctant alcoholic--with ease.