"Bill W. and Dr. Bob," a play that deals with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, has been presented in 35 states as well as in Australia, Canada and England. The show was last seen here in New York in 2007, but is now back off-Broadway for a return engagement. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following review for NY1.
Exact figures are hard to tally, but the group Alcoholics Anonymous estimates more than 1 million members in the U.S. alone. That's a potentially huge audience for "Bill W. and Dr. Bob," a period drama about the men who founded AA in 1935. Judging by the warm and vocal audience when I attended, it seems that 12-steppers are turning out to honor the secular saints in the title.
Earnest, episodic and laced with dry humor, "Bill W. and Dr. Bob" hits neither theatrical brilliance nor rock bottom in the overcoming-addiction genre. Its stage virtues are less important than its social value as a cultural document.
Spanning the year of the Great Crash to the 1950s, the play focuses on its two heroes. Bill Wilson, played by Patrick Boll, is a charismatic stockbroker who chronically drinks himself into a stupor. Bob Smith, played by Timothy Crowe, is a physician and secret boozehound who self-medicates with scotch. The early scenes of these otherwise decent fellows getting sloppy blotto are so grim, you'll be ready to swear off summer cocktails.
Wilson joins a temperance group and becomes a fiery evangelist for sobriety. Eventually, he meets Smith, and they realize that only fellow drinkers can help each other stay off the bottle by meeting and talking it out.
Co-authors Sam Shem and Janet Surrey's script unfortunately doesn't go too deep into either man's psyche, and the historical context is treated only cursorily. Still, the cast is capable and committed, and staged efficiently by Seth Gordon.
For anyone in recovery, this heartfelt drama might offer solace and insight. For others, though, it probably won't pose too great a ticket temptation.