AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Samuel Shem & Janet Surrey
Presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre
Directed by Richard Seer
 San Jose Repertory Theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA / (408) 367-7255

Reviewed by Judy Richter

I don't have any solid statistics, but I'm sure that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives have been saved by Alcoholics Anonymous. Probably many more nonalcoholics have found solace in Al-Anon, a support group for people involved with alcoholics. The two organizations' influence spreads even wider into groups using AA's principles to help people with other addictions such as narcotics and gambling.

"Bill W. and Dr. Bob" tells how AA was started by two seemingly hopeless alcoholics who found each other and a way to achieve sobriety. Married couple Samuel Shem (pen name for Stephen Bergman) and Janet Surrey relate the men's story in a two-act play being given its West Coast premiere by San Jose Repertory Theatre.

The story is set mainly in the Depression and focuses on Bill Wilson (Ray Chambers), a former New York-based stockbroker whose reputation and finances were ruined by his drinking, and Dr. Bob Smith (Robert Sicular), an Akron, Ohio, physician with a serious drinking problem.

Thanks to a friend who had become sober through his involvement in a Christian organization known as the Oxford Group, Bill stopped drinking. However, when confronted with bad luck while on a business trip to Akron, he was sorely tempted to drink. Instead he made some calls in search of another drunk to talk to. As luck would have it, he was introduced to Bob, who was intrigued by what he had to say.The two of them then set out to help other drunks and ultimately founded AA. In the meantime, their long-suffering wives, Lois Wilson (Carrie Paff) and Anne Smith (Kandis Chappell) formed a support group of their own -- a group that evolved into Al-Anon.

Director Richard Seer skillfully paces the action as it moves between the two couples and various experiences. The people they encounter along the way are all definitively portrayed by Cindy Goldfield and Mike Ryan.

It's an interesting story told in an engrossing, theatrical manner thanks to the play itself, as well as the director and outstanding cast. Perhaps the main question in this story is why the two wives chose to remain with their husbands, who were clearly on downward spirals. One can only surmise that these women loved the sober men they had known and that divorce was not an easy option in those times. They also might have been unknowingly serving as co-dependents.

The dominant element in Robin Sanford Roberts' scenic design is a long wall of shelves filled with liquor bottles of all shapes and sizes and backlit as part of Trevor Norton's lighting design. Costumes by Cathleen Edwards reflect the era, while Paul Peterson's sound design is unobtrusive.

Besides some background in the program, San Jose Rep provides fascinating in-depth information in a study guide available in the lobby. One can only wonder if it might be read by someone who will be influenced to seek help through AA or Al-Anon. If so, then the guide and the play go far beyond providing just thought-provoking entertainment and information.

For More Information

Return to Home Page

  • Road (National) Tour Review Index
  • New York City & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • Berkshire, Massachusetts Theatre Review Index
  • Boston Area Theatre Review Index
  • Florida Theatre Review Index
  • London Theatre Review Index
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul (Twin Cities) Theatre Review Index
  • Philadelphia & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Review Index
  • Seattle Area Theatre Review Index
  • Toronto, Ontario (Canada) Index