Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Bill W. and Dr Bob @ the San Jose Rep

Bill W. and Dr. Bob 6: (l to r) 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.

Last week I attended Opening Night for the San Jose Repertory's last show of the 2011-2012 season, Bill W. and Dr. Bob. It is based on the true story of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and their wives. Usually I lean toward musicals however, the subject matter was intriguing and ultimately drew me in. 

When I arrived at the press desk I chatted a bit about the show with Laura (Marketing Manager for the Rep) and Elisabeth (PR contact). Laura mentioned the set design and that there was an interesting element to it. Now, set design is one of the things I really like to focus on at any kind of show, so I was already intrigued. Then she added, with a smile, that I should try to count the number of bottles the set designers put in the scenes.

After my guest and I found our seats, I glanced up at the set and immediately understood what Laura was hinting at. Let's just say there were quite a few bottles to count. You really should see it. I'm sure you could just check out the media photos on the Rep's website (the one I used above for example) … but it's better to just see it in person, mmkay?

The show… wow. Literally as the show ended, I turned to my friend and after a moment, blinked and slightly shook my head and said "wow." The show is moving and holds your interest all the way through. It deals the battle with alcohol the two men have in their lives, the wear and tear it does to their relationships, and the struggles they have internally about their disease and the deep-down honest want for healing they both seek. I've never been to a show with such a powerful and moving story. And to know it's a true story makes it all the more amazing, really.

A quick breakdown of elements:

The actors portraying Bill W. and Dr. Bob are fantastic. I was particularly mesmerized by the acting of Ray Chambers (Bill W.) -- from the powerful anger-fueled outbursts to the sly, humorous moments, glances and comedic timing - he was fantastic.

Two of the actors, Cindy Goldfield and Mike Ryan, were amazing! They'd run off stage to dress up as yet again another character. Mike Ryan played about 11 different characters throughout the show. Insane!

Set Design:
Like I mentioned earlier in my post, the main set features some bottles, of which you just have to see it in person. It's a unique way to decorate the set. The rest of it involved moving pieces, a dining room table, or living room chairs float out from the sides of the stage when needed. Since storyline and acting is the main focus, the set design helps to remind you the setting without overpowering the scene.

Costume Design:
In general the costumes for the men were pretty typical of the era. Stylish suits and even an argyle sweater (think old-school golfing style) were nice, but the one thing that stood out the most to me…. the women's SHOES.

I want to own all of them. The blue and white heels Lois wears in a few scenes were so adorable! Another pair, worn by Hen, were off-white with periwinkle blue tips. I have always loved the clothing of that era and while the dresses were not necessarily great in terms of the fabric patterns, they felt very true to life. Espeically for the Wilsons, they did not have a lot of money so fabric wasn't going to be super fancy designs. Anyway, that's my take on it at least.


If you've ever been curious about what Alcohol Anonymous is and how it came to be, this is a show for you. Get a little history lesson in. There's some humor, some sadness, and hope throughout the entire show. If you or someone you know has battled alcohol addiction, I'm sure you'll find it just as interesting and accurate. 

Some observations about the audience reactions; when Bill, after a short sober period, opts to take a shot in celebration of Armistice Day, the audience gasped with exasperation. He was clearly fighting the idea, but couldn't resist temptation. Toward the end, during a few particularly moving scenes (I've never seen an actor on stage really cry, but I suppose sitting so close to the stage helped), during the quiet moments you can hear the audience sniffling. No doubt there were many people in attendance that have gone through similar situations - whether as the one who has/is battling such a disease or a loved one who has been on the other side.

I've only read one other review so far. That particular reviewer said the show wasn't "life-changing", and while yes everyone has different experiences... I just can't help but feel that because of so many eye-opening, dramatic, and emotional moments this story has that one can walk away not feeling moved.


June 21 - July 15, 2012
by Samuel Shem & Janet Surrey
directed by Richard Seer

This quick-witted and honest docu-drama follows two dynamic and dedicated men who, in the midst of their battle with acute and debilitating alcoholism, formed a formidable and historic alliance to help others combat the same addiction. Bill Wilson, a stockbroker who crashed with the stock market, finds himself in a bar. He could have pursued any number of distractions–a game of solitaire, reading a book–instead he chose to make a phone call. Through an astonishing series of events and bitter humor comes the inspiring, true story of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and their wives.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds amazing! Will they have this show again? I've been interested in seeing these true stories ever since I got out of the rehab. I'm just inspired with my fellow [former] addicts' stories. I would love to hear about the turning point of their lives, and the support their loved ones gave them to overcome their addiction.

    Cooper B