A play about a meeting … but not just any meeting

BillandBob.JPGJim Cunningham, left, and Stephen D’Ambrose as Bill W. and Dr. Bob. (Photo by Lauren B. Photography.)

If you think you’ve seen a postcard promoting the play “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” before, you’re right. The production that opens March 8 is Illusion Theater’s third outing with the story about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. This time, though, the play has new music and a mostly new cast, and Illusion is taking the play on tour.

For people who don’t know, Dr. Bob and Bill W. were a pair of hopeless drunks before they were introduced in Akron, Ohio, in the 1930s. They discovered that by talking to each other they could begin to find relief from their affliction, and that as their circle of conversation widened, they could help others as well.

The play, written by Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey, starts with the story of what brought Bob and Bill to that point in their lives, and chronicles their later effort to spread the fellowship. The rendering of their initial conversation is speculative, because no one else was there; think of it as the first in A.A.’s tradition of closed meetings.

Michael Robins, who directs the production, said the play connects powerfully with audiences that often include people in recovery programs – “a large, diverse, eclectic group of people.” This time around, those audiences will include people in several other Minnesota cities, thanks to funds from the state’s Legacy Amendment. Cities on the tour itinerary include Brainerd, Mankato and Fergus Falls.

Could Illusion’s third production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” lead to a fourth – or even to a recurring slot in Illusion’s future seasons? Robins has heard the idea before, from people who say “it would be a gift” to people in recovery. “But I don’t know,” he said. Long-range planning isn’t one of Illusion’s strengths, he added: “It’d be hard to tell you what we’re doing next year.”

–Eric Ringham