Friday, April 16, 2010

Cleveland Play House: Bill W. & Dr. Bob (FusionFest 2010)

The soundbite version of this would likely be something along the lines of "Cleveland Play House presents a profoundly moving drama," that combined with, "Go see an amazing bit of theater" is probably all that needs to be said--and all that can be said without utterly failing to do justice to CPH's production, under Seth Gordon's superb direction and featuring Sean Patrick Reilly, Denise Cormier, Timothy Crowe, Margaret Daly, Charles Kartali and Heather Anderson Boll.

I hadn't originally planned on seeing Bill W. & Dr. Bob -- then I bought the Cleveland Play House's FusionFest "Festival Pass" on an impulse and figured I might as well check it out.

The story, largely set in Akron, leads up to and through the the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill W., a New York stockbroker and Dr. Bob, and Akron surgeon. The start is slow, rather predictably showing the damage done and about to be done in the lives of the two alcoholics, but once the train gets rolling it's not stopping.

During a trip to Akron for a business deal that has fallen apart, Bill W., recently sober and finding himself slipping towards drinking, calls a church looking for an off-the-wagon alcoholic to help resist the urge.

"Why are you calling? Are you an Episcopalian?" "No, Alcoholic."

Perhaps at this point I should say that I have chronically dry eyes--to the extent that every visit to my optometrist results in leaving with cases of eye drops and the admonition to 'use them'.

A few moments later the words "Stan Hywet Hall" were uttered and along with an audible gasp from the audience I felt my composure...for no obvious reason...beginning to slip. Shortly thereafter, I realized that my immersion was so deep, and my suspension of disbelief so complete that my typical stance as the objective outsider with all due respect to the fourth wall was no longer viable.

While I put myself back together during intermission, the second half of the performance -- largely the efforts of the two to find other alcoholics to help -- shattered my normally unrockable composure (I would typically say, "It is just a play, after all").

During the ensuing ovation I found myself contemplating what these two people, 30 or so miles down the road and 80 years ago had done -- not only for themeselves, and for the millions of people helped by AA, but for opening communication across society about issues that may have previously been swept under the rug in the privacy of one's own living room.

The talkback following the performance was similarly enlightening with several AA members in the audience sharing their experiences.

It took a substantial amount of my drive home, as well as the time writing this entry to shake the profundity of the performance. Needless to say, the eye drops shall not need to be used this evening.

As is to be expected from the Cleveland Play House the scenic design was fantastic, featuring some 2,000 empty bottles, intriguing lighting, and sliding set pieces. (One wonders what wonders CPH's creative staff could work on my living room if given adequate resources)


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