Theatre is an incredible medium for illuminating the dark corners of history and revealing their relevancy. “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” does just that, written with an acute commitment to historical accuracy by Sam Shem and Janet Surrey. This is the story of Alcoholics Anonymous, formed organically in Akron, Ohio by two entrepreneurial alcoholics following the Great Depression.
The show is transporting; every aspect feels characteristic of the “Greatest Generation”. The dialogue is long-winded and formal, littered with witty, dry humor, characteristic of early 20th century works. Under the direction of Seth Gordon, the acting is stately. The actresses are bold and empowered with the spirit of Rosie the Riveter, while the actors are loaded with humility as they accept their alcoholism. With grandiose stature and speech, Patrick Boll is superb as Bill W., the stockbroker turned sobriety exponent. Denise Cormier is unmatched as Lois, Bill's aggrieved and “spunky” wife.
Among the play's shortcomings are its length, running over two hours, and its unrelenting antiquity. “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” reflects little in the way of modern innovations in humor, but its largely elderly audience is vocally exuberant throughout. Younger generations may feel out of place and unamused at the Soho Playhouse, yet they will leave with a greater knowledge and understanding than they came in with.
Through June 1 at Soho Playhouse.