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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BILL W. AND DR. BOB
at the New World Stages, New York

TIME IN A BOTTLE
By Sandy MacDonald

  (L to R) Robert Krakovski (Bill) and Patrick Husted (Bob) /Photo: Carol Rosegg

Alcoholism, as any alcoholic's family and friends will tell you, is not funny. It's utterly heartbreaking to watch a loved one embark on a Manichean battle for his or own soul - pitting recidivism against the resolve to quit - when, for purely chemical reasons, the addiction itself has the upper hand.

In the early 1930s, as the nation reeled in reaction to the Depression (and Prohibition denied the slightest succor, instead enhancing drinkers' shame and desperation), two afflicted men, stockbroker Bill Wilson and surgeon Dr. Bob Smith, managed to help each other. In the process, a life-changing movement was born.

As you settle in for a sober-sided lecture/biography, the authors - Dr.Stephen Bergman (who writes best-selling novels under the name of Samuel Shem) and his wife, clinical psychologist Janet Surrey - immediately disarm with quirky portraits of the two protagonists and their long-suffering spouses.

Bill (Rob Krakovski who shares Liam Neeson's larger-than-life physical stature and tendency toward earnestness) has a touch of the manic-depressive, riding high when his trades pan out and descending into a spiral of self-blame when they don't. As his wife, Lois, delicate beauty Rachel Harker is driven to hurl some harsh words his way: "You don't even have the decency to die," she taunts, after Bill has been handed a medical death sentence if he continues on his self-destructive course. It's hard to see the love in that last-ditch challenge - unless you've been there.

Similarly, anyone who has spent time in the orbit of an alcoholic may sense some unease as Dr. Bob (salty Patrick Husted, who has the Vermont accent and brand of humor down pat) angles with his vigilant wife, Anne (Kathleen Doyle), for some alone time. The adorable old coot can't wait to let loose, and his jazz-fueled jig would be cute, were it not for the ensuing shakes that seriously compromise his career, not to mention his patients' odds for survival. "It's a miracle I haven't killed somebody," he admits.

Two actors - Marc Carver and Deanna Dunmyer - play a parade of passing figures in a fast-moving sequence of short scenes. Dunmyer is particularly adept as a quick-change artist, immediately nailing disparate personae, from a sassy roundheeled barmaid to a hifalutin' reformer and, later, a battered wife. To her credit, and that of the playwrights, these snapshots come across as three-dimensional, not types trotted out for didactic purposes.

It's Husted, really, who best embodies the internal turmoil that fuels the alcoholic. He's packing rage, which emerges in a quiet growl like "Stop trying to save me." Half the time he acts like a bratty tyke: alcohol may have dulled his reflexes, but not the edges of his contrarian personality.

The well-constructed script is hard to fault on any level, except perhaps that - a black-out gangbang and one instance of regurgitation excepted -- it doesn't do full justice to the physical degradations that alcohol can inflict. Chances are good, though, that the self-select audience will readily fill in the blanks.

Far from formulaic, this vivid depiction more than fulfills the mandate of effective theatre: it unsettles, it illumines, it sends you off newly questioning all that you thought you knew.

 


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