Play deals with AA founding

BLUE EARTH – Almost everyone has heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, but “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” tells the story of the two men who created the organization, and the wives who stood by them.

“It will speak directly to anyone in the recovery community,” said director Michael Robins. “I’ve also noticed a great power to tell an American story to people who like compelling theater.”

“Bill W. and Dr. Bob” will be staged by Illusion Theater at 7 p.m. April 4 at Blue Earth Area High School Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $5 at the door for adults; admission is free for all students. A facilitated audience discussion will follow the performance.

The play centers on Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith’s “fateful meeting in 1935 back in Ohio,” Robins said. “Act one of the play concentrates on how they got to that meeting.”

That the men met at all is remarkable since they came from different backgrounds and were different ages. But they had one thing in common: both were alcoholics and it was causing problems in their lives. Wilson and Smith form a friendship and help keep each other sober.

Act two deals with them figuring out a way to use what they’ve learned to help others, and how Lois Wilson and Anne Smith founded Al-Anon.

“The relationship is very well documented,” Robins said. “This play delves into the emotional aspect of it; poignant and humorous and inspirational. It’s emotionally honest and authentic as possible.”

That includes dealing with a tough subject matter.

“It doesn’t shy away from what the demons might be; it has a realistic humor,” Robins said.

He said the play is appropriate for high school students, but families have brought younger teens as well.

“It’s direct in its dealing with what is an alcoholic and how difficult it is to achieve recovery,” said Robins, adding that the play covers the available treatments at the time.

Tackling the roles are Jim Cunningham as Bill W., Stephen D’Ambrose as Dr. Bob, Carolyn Pool as Lois Wilson and Laura Esping as Anne Smith.

“All of them have been in productions with us,” Robins said. “It’s a really very, very strong [acting] company. They bring the characters to life in a meaningful way.”

The stop in Blue Earth is part of a tour, Robins said.

Blue Earth is on the tour because Illusion Theater has had a relationship with the school for a number of years, he added.

“We like the Blue Earth and Fairmont area,” Robins said. “We’ve been coming there for a long time.”