As you watch actors take on such legendary figures in the history of recovery at Theatre 68, the intimacy of the space and the visceral performances lead to a striking realization. It is truly a miracle that AA survived the desperate early days in the hands of two newly-sober souls.
By John Lavitt
North Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 03-21-2023
As presented by Theatre 68 in North Hollywood, Bill W. and Dr. Bob exemplifies independent theatre at its finest. Precisely directed by Ronnie Marmo, who has lit up stages across the country with his one-person take on the life of Lenny Bruce, the play strikes at the core of a truly historic event. Indeed, the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous is classified as one of the most outstanding achievements of the 20th Century. Many believe, and even more know, that the meeting between Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith on June 10, 1935, in Akron, Ohio, began a movement that positively changed the world.
Known as “Founder’s Day” in the AA Fellowship, the first meeting between these two men sparked the notion of one alcoholic being of service to another. Born from Bill Wilson’s desperation to not take a drink in a hotel bar, it dug the groundwork for connection and empathy. Written by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey, the play does not start on this momentous day. The playwrights understand that the foundation stones for a drama must be laid before any critical meeting occurs. Before history happens, we need to understand the backdrop of the story.
As played by Michael Rubenstone and Daniel T. McCann, respectively, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith are presented in the beginning as two men in the throes of alcoholism. No matter what they do, they cannot avoid taking that first drink. As daily train wrecks tearing through their families and careers, both men excel in their roles. Indeed, there is a tangible sense of them pushing so hard against the tides of desperation. In the cold pit of their souls, however, they know they cannot control or keep back the ocean of alcoholism in which they are drowning.
The play’s highlight is Lisa LoCicero as Lois Wilson. Known for her work on General Hospital, she is a sturdy figure of great empathy. As you watch Lois throttled time and again by Bill’s drinking, she brings a bruised dignity to the role. With her marriage in tatters and her husband a seemingly impossible case, what can she do but hold on for dear life while fighting back a hurricane of resentment? When Lois finally meets Anne Smith (Joyce Fidler), there is a sense of relief. However, this relief is fleeting because how can she buy into a recovery that brings in no financial support and feels so frighteningly tenuous?
Ultimately, the success of Bill W. and Dr. Bob at Theatre 68 is to show how fragile was the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is no reason why this miracle should have been able to survive, and one can only imagine the odds Vegas would have given at the time. Incredibly, it remained and thrived, and the play explains why.
Two was never enough to achieve the belief needed to move forward with the AA program. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob struggled for months to find the third member. However, when that member is finally found, a light bulb turns on in a darkened room. If three are possible, then the doors are open to a revolution of smoky rooms in church basements.
The same experience happens when Lois and Anne meet the wife of the third member. When two become three, there is a moment of magic when Lois Wilson realizes she is not alone. Not only are there others out there, both men and women, who need her help and support, but reaching out is a way to save her own life.
Bill W. and Dr. Bob is not just about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. The seeds of Al-Anon are apparent as well in the play, and the healing that begins to happen is for everyone at the table of life. When it comes to the disease of alcoholism, love feels like a never ending tragedy until the miracle of recovery is achieved. If you want to experience such a miracle, Bill W. and Dr. Bob is an ideal night or afternoon out.