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THEATER REVIEW When Harry Met Rehab
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2021-12-12

This article shared 1339 times since Sun Dec 12, 2021
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Title: When Harry Met Rehab. Playwright: Spike Manton and Harry Tienowitz

At: Donald Cameron Clark Productions at the Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $42-$85; WhenHarryMetRehab.com . Runs through: Jan. 30

Comedies throughout most of our culture's 20th century habitually boasted a "drunk scene"—the pivotal moment in the plot when all is revealed/resolved by an overserved raisonneur (character acting as the voice of the author or dramatist) reveling in the candor afforded the inebriated. Even today, T-shirts, tankards and TV sitcoms continue to smile indulgently on moms swilling wine during their busy days and dads guzzling beer in their off-duty hours. The message conveyed by these images is that alcohol is a harmless substance. If it weren't, why would it still be legal?

This acceptance is the reason our introduction to Harry is his entry into an eight-week stint in addiction rehab after being ordered by his boss to get sober or lose the job he loves. Like most adaptive boozers, Harry arrives armed with an arsenal of excuses, denials, easy witticisms and other means of shrugging off the palpable evidence of his misbehavior under the influence of bottomless tequila shots. His fellow penitents—Vince, Isaiah, George, Andrea and therapist Barb—are having none of it, however. These veterans of battles against compulsive auto-sabotage may not yet know how to avoid their nemeses' array of seductive tricks and traps, but they know more than Harry does. Gradually, the ex-sportscaster begins to weigh the merits of giving up a single pleasure in order to retain the many more he enjoys, starting with his wife and children.

Co-authors Spike Manton and Harry Tienowitz (the latter, himself, a former sportscaster—not coincidentally) likewise refuse to traffic in morning-after confessions, keeping their recitation of stats to a minimum; the tone of their delivery sardonic; and the overall dialogue configured to the rhythms of forced-proximity camaraderie in a gender-neutral key that easily encompasses bonding rituals involving all. Indeed, in the close-up and intimate quarters of the Greenhouse's downstairs studio—rendered even more communal by Regina Garcia's scenic design extending beyond the perimeter of the stage to encircle the entire auditorium—we, too, might be in the room occupied by these prodigals.

To be sure, Manton and Tienowitz' no-proselytizing text could, in the wrong hands, relapse into manneristic showiness, but director Jackson Gay and a cast with West Coast luminaries Dan Butler and Melissa Gilbert as well as Chicago favorites Chike Johnson, Elizabeth Laidlaw, Keith D. Gallagher and Jonathan Moises Olivarez never allow the characters to stray from the immediate dynamic, down to the smallest facial twitch.

Disgruntled playgoers might question the appropriateness of a play claiming to "take sobriety seriously" for the holiday season—especially after discovering the lobby bar's moratorium on alcoholic beverages for the show's duration—but what do we celebrate at this time of the year, if NOT the prospect of rebirth, restoration and a fresh path opening the way to peace?


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