‘Bill W. and Dr. Bob’: A poignant look at the founding of A.A.

Bill Wilson (Ray Chambers) and Dr. Bob Smith (Robert Sicular) meet and talk for the first time in what is now known as the first A.A. meeting in San Jose Rep’s West Coast premiere of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.”

“Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” is written by Samuel Shem, a doctor and medical novelist, and his wife Janet Surrey, a psychologist. They skillfully lead us through the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and cover the events that lead to the understanding of the affliction in a poignant and sometimes humorous journey.
They show how alcoholism is an addictive disorder characterized by the compulsive and uncontrolled abuse of alcohol. It results in adverse effects upon the drinker’s health and can cause life threatening and family-defying issues. It is medically defined as a treatable disease. Alcoholism is a major disease in the United States and is estimated that among those 12 years old and older, more than 18 million fall into the alcoholic category.
The play tells the story of New Yorker Bill Wilson, a stock broker in the midst of the 1924 crash trying to unsuccessfully control his business and drinking. We find him in the spring of 1935 on a business trip in Akron, Ohio, trying to stay on the wagon when he decides he needs to talk with another drunk to help him overcome his desire. He contacts Dr. Bob Smith, a surgeon and also a roaring drunk who operates hungover and is also having difficulty staying sober. Hence the rough beginning of A.A.
A super strong cast – with Ray Chambers as Bill W. and Bob Sicular as Dr. Bob – delivers a superb offering of the pair with their addictions, problems and desires to confront and control the disease. Richard Seer directs with a delicate hand, bringing in tantalizing performances from a gifted cast that play multiple characters.
Scenic designer Sanford Roberts’ well done and moving sets keep everyone in the right place at the right time. Lighting designer Trevor Norton and sound designer Paul Peterson hit difficult cues with fine accurate effect.
Alcoholism is a difficult theme to subject an audience to. But the authors give us a non-condescending look at the topic with clarity, without a heavy handed approach.
For an evening of fine theater about the founding of A.A. and Al-Anon, “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” will deliver the story without pulling any punches.

Where: San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose
Through: July 15
Tickets: $30-$79
Details: (408) 367-7255 or www. sjrep.com

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