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When Bill Met Bob
''Bill W. and Dr. Bob''
Directed by Rick Lombardo
New World Stages
340 West 50th St.
Opened March 5, 2007
Tues. thru Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 & 7 p.m.
$66 (212) 239-6200 www.telecharge.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 3, 2007
A play about the two hopeless drunks who founded Alcoholics Anonymous is an intriguing idea and it could have been quirky, moving or hilarious. ''Bill W. and Dr. Bob,'' which is having its off-Broadway premiere at New World Stages, is at times a bit of all these, but more often it is just boring.
The problem is mostly in the writing. ''Bill W. and Dr. Bob'' was penned by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey. Bergman is a novelist and playwright who never got within earshot of Broadway for good reason. Surrey is a clinical psychologist and author of books with titles like ''Mothering Against the Odds'' and ''We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men.'' What kind of preparation this is for playwriting is anyone’s guess.
Robert Krakovski as Bill W. and Patrick Husted as Dr. Bob. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Hopping across America from September 1925 to July 1955 (except for the prologue and epilogue, set in 1939 and 1955), ''Bill W. and Dr. Bob'' tells the story of how Bill Wilson (Rob Krakovski), a failed stockbroker and expert guzzler, after years of inebriation, meets Dr. Bob Smith (Patrick Husted), a surgeon who, unbeknownst to his unfortunate patients, often operates not too long after a bender.
The meeting was initiated by a clergyman, who gives Wilson (in Ohio on a failed business trip and desperately in need of a fellow alcoholic to talk to) Dr. Bob’s name. And the rest is history, in this case both on and off stage.
At many points in the play, ''Bill W. and Dr. Bob'' seems like a high school production staged for the education and moral enlightenment of the students. It moves wildly from high melodrama to campy jokes at a disastrous and disorienting pace. But director Rick Lombardo has given the play only one set, so at times it seems as if the actors are running across a monochrome and monotonous paneled set.
With such poor direction and writing, it’s hard to tell whether the actors might have performed better if they had been given better material to work with. They all have extensive experience, but it is mostly in regional theater. This doesn’t mean that they are any less capable than Broadway or off-Broadway stars. But it does mean they might have been willing to perform in a show nobody else would touch.
Nevertheless Husted does provide the audience with a few good laughs with his country-style humor and drunken antics. But often the jokes are intelligible only to those who are familiar with looking into empty bottles or confessing at AA meetings.
Unless you have a personal interest in alcoholism and its cure, there are better things to do than see ''Bill W. and Dr. Bob.'' Like having a good drink.
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