Bill W. and Dr. Bob review- Theatre 68 moves audiences at the Biograph Theater, Chicago

Steve Gelder, Phil Aman and Ronnie Marmo; photo by Courtney Roles
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Bill W. and Dr. Bob is currently being presented through April 14, 2024, at the Richard Christiansen Theater of the Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. 

Written by Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey, and collecting awards since 1995, the play is produced and directed by Ronnie Marmo, who also stars as Bill W; Dr. Bob is acted by Steve Gelder.

Ronnie Marmo and Katherine Wettermann as Bill and Lois Wilson; photo by Courtney Roles

The legendary true story on which the drama is based began 95 years ago in New York, when a stockbroker named Bill Wilson loses his shirt in the market crash of 1929 and becomes a raging alcoholic. At the same time Bill muscles his way to the wagon- after coming very close to losing his fedup wife- Dr. Bob Smith, an Ohio surgeon and drunk for 30 years, enters his orbit. The 2 support each other and then together help a third man into sobriety, thus forming Alcoholics Anonymous; their wives join forces to form Al Anon. It’s an engaging, heartwarming, gently humorous story with a real message: sobriety must be built on a community of same genre suffering.

And the message is known to hundreds of thousands throughout the world, including- with devotion and gratitude- Marmo himself, now sober for decades. It was brought home from the very onset of the performance just how familiar the AA meetings jargon is: after the opening lines intoned by both Marmo and Gelder, “My name’s Bill/Bob and I’m an alcoholic”, throughout the house the audience, almost as one, responds, “Hi, Bill; Hi, Bob”; this is the way the meetings start all over the world.

Ronnie Marmo and Steve Gelder as Bill W. and Dr. Bob; photo by Courtney Roles

Watching the dogged persistence of the 2 main characters to transform each other’s naked attachment to alcohol, to achieve transcendence over the ruined lives of their friends, is a study in the power of human connectivity, the magic of the strength in standing by, of being there for, of listening and hearing, of bearing witness, bearing up, baring one’s soul. 

The stagecraft is spare, chairs and a table, the 30’s era costumes refreshingly modest. Marmo, veteran of stage and screen, is a brooding presence, strong and wry, deep-voiced, candid and unashamed; he loves his character wife who’s had enough, begs her to stay, carries on when she leaves, welcomes her back, exults with gregarious fed-up-with-self Gelder; they think they have the solution and they do! The actors are credible and believable, and so is the program.

The piece is a study in the power of each of us, the power to sweat out the shakes, higher power be leaned on or damned, the ability to return to the world if someone else believes you can, and then you give it back- again and again and again. Kudos to the fine supporting performances by Phil Aman, Katherine Wettermann, Elizabeth Rude and Marla Seidell.

Also playing at the Biograph, opening March 14, 2024 for 8 shows only will be I’m Not A Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce, written by and starring Ronnie Marmo, directed by Joe Mategna, the 2 plays running in repertory. The dark and stylized Marmo will reprise his role as the iconoclast Bruce- don’t miss either production by Marmo’s Theatre 68.

For information and tickets, go to ad***@vi************.org


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