<em>Bill W. and Dr. Bob</em> at Center Stage Theater
Courtesy Photo

The core concept of Alcoholics Anonymous—that the responsibility for keeping others sober is the strongest support for one’s own sobriety—comes across with abundant clarity in this excellent production of Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey’s play about the founders of the organization. As Bill Wilson, Brian Harwell gives a passionate, energetic performance full of nuance and emotion. As Bill’s wife, Lois Wilson, Jenna Scanlon navigates between the extremes of self-pity and noble resignation until she comes out the other side, proudly supportive and accepting of her husband’s extraordinary mission in life. But even alongside the Wilson’s great love, that of Dr. Bob Smith (Tim Whitcomb) and Anne Smith (Kathy Marden) stands out as something remarkable. Marden does an excellent job as the long-suffering Anne, bringing a note of sophistication and a steely nerve to the role, while Whitcomb performs wonders as the cantankerous yet strangely lovable Dr. Bob, the man without whom Bill W.’s dream could never have been realized. The fine cast also includes Matt Talbott and Rebecca Ridenour, who are called upon to play a number of roles, all crucial to the unfolding of this American epic of suffering and redemption.

The true story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous captures one of the most inspiring episodes in the history of human society. Debilitated, seemingly beyond redemption, by addictions they could neither shed nor control, Bill W. and Dr. Bob prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that altruism contributes to self-preservation. Unable to save himself, Bill W. found that by looking after others who shared his plight, he could maintain his fragile sobriety. In conversation with the deeply learned and equally troubled medical doctor Bob Smith, the ambitious stock broker from New York discovered that sharing his experiences with another drunk could relieve him of some of the crippling despair that comes along with alcoholism. The Christian organization the Oxford Group provided some of the inspiration, suggesting that public confession of one’s flaws in the context of a support group could allow addicts to progress toward recovery, yet it is the selflessness and anti-elitist stance of the founders that separates Alcoholics Anonymous from its all-but-forgotten precursor. Alison Daniels, Ann Dusenberry, and everyone who contributed to this fine production are to be congratulated for bringing such an important story to the stage in such a compelling and dramatic fashion.


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