By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Written by a couple of shrinks, this play is a 100-proof disaster. An unpalatable hybrid of church pageant and medieval melodrama, the script has characters angrily yelling bits of exposition. Stuff that sounds like "You've been drunk since 1929, when the stock market fell! And that was six years ago! And now it's 1935 and you were drunk on the day my mother died! In Akron! Home of the Goodyear tire company!"
The acting in director Kerry Cole's production is hard to watch without being embarrassed for the cast. Why were leads Greg Forshay (playing Depression-era stockbroker Bill Wilson) and Jerry Crow (as surgeon Bob Smith) allowed to create such unconvincing drunks? In the close quarters of this 80-seat basement space, they flail around with huge, awkward gestures, over-slurring and stumbling like Ray Milland in Lost Weekend.
As Bill's wife Lois, Hilary Couch stands ramrod straight, blasting her lines like a foghorn even when she's alone onstage reading aloud as her character writes a journal entry (a dramatic device that tells you the playwrights are hacks). Playing Bob's long-suffering wife Anne is Stephanie Dunnam, who 30 years ago was the "It Girl" of Dallas theaters. In this thing she has little to do but stare at an embroidery hoop or flip the pages of a Bible. At least she's not yelling.
Is He Dead? continues through April 25 at WaterTower Theatre, Addison. Call 972-450-6232.
Bill W. and Dr. Bob continues through April 25 at Theatre Too. Call 214-871-3300
Elizabeth Rueff and Andrew Dillon appear in several roles each, a confusing crossover of comic relief and deadly serious characters. As a hospitalized drinker whom Bill and Bob try to persuade toward their belief in alcoholism as "allergy," Dillon provides the only semi-real moment of the evening as he quietly declines the men's offer of help.
Aiming for a somber message of hope for the recovered, the recovering and those who haven't yet had the courage to go to their first AA meeting, Bill W. and Dr. Bob comes off as a preachy, moralistic trudge. Chase that with bad performances for two most unhappy hours.