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Sandy theater company gives stellar performance

The SAT cast, crew are staging weekend shows of the true beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous
by: Lisa K. Anderson Bill W. (James Bass) and Dr. Bob (Kevin Fenster) reach out to their first AA member, Billy Dotson (Patrick Roth) in “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.”

A lot of hard work and patience has finally brought the true story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous to Sandy.

For Sandy Actors Theatre Artistic Director Jim Wilhite, gaining the rights was a labor of love. A declared alcoholic who has been sober for 38 years, Wilhite says he was fortunate to obtain this story's premiere staging in a half-dozen Northwestern states.

The Samuel French corporation couldn't have chosen a better theater company for its premiere of 'Bill W. and Dr. Bob.' In its opening weekend, the SAT crew and cast produced one of their best showings in years.

A critic is supposed to criticize, but few negative comments need to be said about this historically true story and powerhouse production.

James Bass as Bill Wilson and Kevin Fenster as Dr. Bob Smith - the two drunks who eventually found a way to quench the fires of alcoholism - made the audience feel like they were in a professional theater.

Both Bill and Bob, each using his own individual personality, was able to portray the disease realistically.

And when Bill's persistence at trying to free Dr. Bob was successful, the two began working together to save 'one drunk at a time.'

Their self-appointed job was never better stated than when Dr. Bob said: 'We're just two bozos on a bus trying to make room for a third.'

Their true-to-life portrayal was fiery at times as well as tender, tearful and hurtful.

Especially hurtful to their spouses.

Lois Wilson was staged with bull's-eye accuracy and matching emotions by Erin Hickman.

Hickman's highly developed acting skills helped her portray a personality different from her own - one that changed during the course of the story. Of note was the way her emotions easily could be seen in her facial expressions.

Deann Fenster showed the audience an Anne Smith who was the tender loving woman Dr. Bob married - tender and loving until he took one drink too many.

We were impressed also with the way Fenster has grown as an actress, and how she took this role and made it her own - allowing her natural compassion to show when appropriate, but at times expressing her anger and frustration with Dr. Bob.

Of the other two cast members, Kelli Lacey - who played six female roles - was most impressive. Each role required different clothing, hair color, accent and attitude. To her credit, it was often difficult to see Lacey in each role because each 'disguise' was staged well.

Perhaps Patrick Roth - who played nine roles throughout the play - had one of the biggest challenges.

Early in the play, it was easy to see the previous role in him when he changed characters because the accents and attitudes were similar. But he redeemed himself in his final role as Billy, a drunk from Kentucky.

His portrayal of Billy was spot-on, and it helped bring the story to its emotional and heart-rending conclusion.

The crew also needs to be praised because the story had 24 scenes, requiring as many set changes without a curtain. Well done Lexy Dillon and Anna Fenster.

All who attend the production during the next four weeks will see another of Tim Fritts' true-to-the-period set designs that illustrates the maxim 'simple is better.'

We also must applaud the work of Mike Gilbert, Doug Holtry, Jim Lamproe and Christine Lyons, who were responsible for stimulating the audience's collective imagination with lights and sounds - including the music and sound effects of the period surrounding the turn of the 20th century.

But special appreciation must be expressed to Wilhite, who is leaving SAT at the end of this production. Wilhite, 72, says he is too young to retire. He plans to continue directing at a theater closer to his home in Portland.

The Post rates this story PG-13 for language, but highly recommends this extremely well-done performance for every person directly or indirectly touched by alcoholism.

If you go

This realistic, heart-rending - but sometimes hilarious - production continues four more weekends, with the last performance Oct. 16. 'Bill W. and Dr. Bob' is staged at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 503-668-6834 or visit the website at sandyactorstheatre.org.