Friday, March 17, 2006

"Bill W. And Dr. Bob" At the New Rep

I attended the theatre tonight at the New Rep in Watertown, MA, with high hopes for the show "Bill W. and Dr. Bob" a dramatization of the early relationship between the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

My hopes were dashed early on.

This show is a triple threat: badly written, badly directed and badly acted.

First of all, it's just a stinker of a script, featuring groanably bad 1930's dialogue and a schmaltzy jazz piano (pronounced pie-anna) soundtrack provided by an actual guy playing the actual pie-anna through the entire actual show. I have a a feeling this eye-rollingly corny concept came with the script, not with the director, but I could be wrong. The co-playwrights never met a cliche they didn't like. Bill W.'s long-suffering wife, played by a thoroughly unwinsome Rachel Harker in two bad wigs, actually has seven or eight scenes where she is either reading aloud her diary entries or letters written to or from her husband.

Co-authors Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey have all kinds of admirable medical credentials between them, but none so impressive that kept them from writing lines like, "When there's a silence like that in the evening, mother used to say that angels are flying by" and "Bill, ya big galoot."

In my opinion, only Patrick Husted and Kathleen Doyle as Dr. and Mrs. Bob Smith managed to get some real pathos out of their roles. Marc Carver mugs terribly in a series of small roles and Deanna Dunmeyr is right there with him in Mugsville, using cute dialects, wigs and hats to create a series of forgettable cameos. Here's a story about true human suffering, but all the humans on stage are caricatures. You just don't care if they get sober or stay sober or if they all fall under a train.
The moments of real acting are few and far between, and director Rick Lombardo seems to have little or no affection for the story he's telling. With that script, who can blame him? But Rick, it wouldn't have hurt to bring in a real, live alcoholic to advise on the drunk stuff. Take it from a girl who's lived with a drunk : it's way more than gripping the gut, groaning and bumping into set pieces.

Robert Krakovski has a thankless job, if you ask me. In an interesting actorly choice, he decides not to even try to swim against the tide of the thoroughly obnoxious, one-dimensional characterization provided by Bergman and Surrey and allows Bill W. to come across as an egotistical fanatic from the very first scene, eyes glinting and all. Here's the character you're supposed to be totally rooting for, but by the end of the show I absolutely hated the guy and couldn't even appreciate his pioneering efforts on behalf of serenity and sobriety the world over. I wanted to crack him over the head with a bottle of Thunderbird.

By the time the whole melodrama wrapped up at three+ hours we all sorely needed a drink.

If you want to encounter the spirit of Bill W., I'd just recommend that you go to an AA meeting. The audience was full of 12-steppers tonight and I had more fun watching them emotionally engage with the story than keeping track of what was going on onstage.


Blogger Chalicechick said...

There's a Cashier who's nametag says "Bill W" at our local supermarket. I've been fighting the urge to make a lame joke about it for years.



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