By Fran Zell
Did you know? One out of ten drivers on the road at any given time is legally drunk. They will likely drive under the influence 80 times before they receive a DUI. Only five per cent of alcoholics ever make it to rehab. Well, now you know.
These are just a few of the “fun facts” Barb the therapist (stage, TV and screen star Melissa Gilbert) sprinkles into group therapy sessions to help five addicts keep it real in When Harry Met Rehab, a scintillating new play having its world premiere at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater Center.
They don’t keep it real, though. They lie, they joke, they deny, despair, and sometimes they relapse, ultimately keeping it human and on edge via a smart, tightly-written script that knows how to be funny and sad in all the right places.
Former ESPN Chicago radio host and critically acclaimed playwright (“Leaving Iowa”) Spike Manton teamed up with his former ESPN radio host friend, Harry Teinowitz to write the play. They say it is loosely based on certain experiences in Teinowitz’ life. No one’s saying how loosely based, but the main character, played by Dan Butler (of TV’s Frasier and Broadway and off-Broadway fame) just happens to be named Harry.
The plot revolves around Harry, beginning when he checks into a rehab center, not because he believes he has a drinking problem, but because he’ll lose his high profile radio job if he doesn’t. Barb, the therapist, has heard this sort of denial before and much worse, thanks at the moment to the four other rehab residents, each powerless over an unmanageable life in their own unhappy way.
Andrea (Elizabeth Laidlaw), uses the bottle to assuage loneliness brought on by numerous failed marriages and friendships. George (Jonathan Moises Olivares) says he’s genetically predisposed to die young anyway, so why not get wasted? Vince (Chiké Johnson) has the kind of abusive, drunken father story that frequently drives people to drink. And Isaiah (Keith D .Gallagher) is a pharmacist who hooked himself on the same petard of painkillers on which he built a successful career.
For his part, Harry fell in love with drinking as a young teen and then stepped into a profession in which it’s an occupational hazard— cool, chic and socially acceptable until it isn’t. He’s got a wife who still stands by him and a young daughter whose emotional equilibrium has been shaken by her father’s fall from grace. It’s this daughter’s struggle in some respects, that keeps Harry from fleeing treatment. But he also has his partners-in-rehab to thank for his perseverance, owing to the somewhat magical and miraculous fun fact that even people who are powerless to save themselves, will in a pinch, look out for each other.
When Harry Met Rehab was produced by Don Cameron Clark, a trial attorney, author, and co-owner of Chicago’s Magic Lounge, a popular showcase for magicians and musicians. He is executive producer of the award-winning film, Guest Artist, written by and starring Jeff Daniels, and produces plays on Broadway and in regional theater.
Clark didn’t hedge his bets with When Harry Met Rehab, bringing in two big name, seasoned actors— Butler and Gilbert —to play the leads, typically a strategy for assuring a long and successful run. Both Butler and Gilbert do a wonderful job. But as it turns out, this all equity cast is non-hierarchical in terms of talent, and combined with a great script and well-paced, polished production, it seems destined to be a hit.
For anyone who has ever struggled with addiction or knows and loves someone who has, When Harry Met Rehab definitely resonates and hits home. But in a larger sense it‘s much more than a story about bottomed-out addicts in a rehab center. At a time when almost every headline trumpets out yet another frightening and self-destructive story, this play poses some important questions: What does it take to recognize and admit the truth about the direction we are headed as individuals and a society? What will it take to turn things around before it is too late? When are we going to get real?
When Harry Met Rehab is directed by Jackson Gay and runs through January 30, 2022 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. It is written by Spike Manton and Harry Teinowitz and stars Dan Butler with Melissa Gilbert and also stars Keith D. Gallagher, Chiké Johnson, Elizabeth Laidlaw and Jonathan Moises Olivares. Tickets range from $42 to $85 plus processing fees and Covid protocols are in place. For more information visit www.whenharrymetrehab.com or call the Greenhouse Theater Center Box Office at 773-404-7336.
Photos courtesy of Michael Brosilow