Theater Review: WHEN HARRY MET REHAB (Greenhouse)

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by Dan Zeff on December 11, 2021

in Theater-Chicago

A SOBERING EXPERIENCE

When Harry Met Rehab is a new play at the Greenhouse Theater Center that takes on the uninviting subject alcoholism. The title may suggest that the play intends a light-hearted view of the topic, and there are plenty of laughs scattered throughout the 90-minute production. But the show comes to grips with the agonies of alcoholism without triviality, compromise, or cheap emotionalism. The approach is a levelheaded realism that grabs the audience with its portrait of the unrelenting grip alcoholism has on the lives of five apparently average people.

When Harry Met Rehab convincingly presents four men and a woman who are, in plain terms, habitual drunks. The five attend a therapy class trying to kick their drinking obsession. Initially, the audience may grow impatient, questioning why Harry, Vince, Isaiah, Andrea, and George don’t just show some will power and walk away from the booze that is ruining their personal and professional lives.

Ah, but it’s not that simple, as we discovers the stories of the five under the sympathetic leadership of Barb, their trained group leader. The result is play that is informative, educational, heartbreaking, dramatic, and most important, entertaining.

This is the autobiography of alcoholic Harry Teinowitz, co-written with Spike Manton. Teinowitz was a popular sports radio personality for years in Chicago whose career was ruined by his drinking. He narrates the play and is one of the five trying to break their drinking affliction under Barb’s guidance. The patients insist they are not alcoholics, but they are in the grip of an addiction they probably will never escape, only hope to control enough to carry on a normal life.

The play consists of a string of therapy sessions that reveal the futility and anger and despair and resentment and guilt that stalk the waking hours of the five patients. The play doesn’t spend much time speculating on the causes of alcoholism, other than some references to growing up in a dysfunctional family, but basically there are no excuses or justifications.

By the end of the show, the audience is left with the somber awareness that the alcoholics are fighting a losing battle, hiding the truth from themselves through self deception. The fortunate ones may learn to exist with their condition but the need for liquor will be the dominant force in their lives until they die. As one character cries out in frustration, if we are incurable, why not just keep drinking.

The play is not preachy, judgmental, or condescending. Each of the five patients is audience high, falling into the category of “there but for the grace of God go I.” It’s that human touch that makes the play so special. Fortunately, the script has been given a spot-on production that makes the characters totally credible in their individual struggles.

The faultless ensemble is led by Dan Butler as Harry, the narrator and one of the five addicts. Barb, the group mentor, is played by Melissa Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie TV fame. The remainder of the cast consists of Keith D. Gallagher, Chike Johnson, Elizabeth Laidlaw, and Jonathan Moises Olivares. Individually, the actors crawl into the skins of their characters with no blemishing fall back into melodrama, sentimentality, or easy laughs.

Credit Jackson Gay’s unobtrusive, truthful directing for shaping the show into such an engrossing viewing experience. Other major contributors to the production’s effectiveness include Regina Garcia (set design), Caitlin McLeod (costumes), Simean Carpenter (lighting), and Ray Nardelli and Christopher M. LaPorte (sound).

I confess I entered the Greenhouse with minimal enthusiasm. I don’t find drunkenness an enjoyable topic in movies or on the stage and I expected a kind of depressing Days of Wine and Roses viewing experience. But I was rewarded with a play that treated its topic with intelligence, legitimate humor, and a firm grip on the complexities of the subject. Potential ticket buyers should not be put off by the subject matter. The Greenhouse production deserves to be seen both as a sensitive examination of one of the country’s major social problems and as a splendid piece of stagecraft.

photos by Marcus Davis

When Harry Met Rehab
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
Wed-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 3 & 7
ends on January 30, 2022
for tickets, call Greenhouse at 773.404.7336 or visit Harry

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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