Review: When Harry Met Rehab, an Addiction Story With Heart and Humor

Chiké Johnson, Dan Butler and Keith D. Gallagher. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

All you can do is begin. That’s the advice of Barb, the therapist in When Harry Met Rehab, the new play about addicts and addiction at the Greenhouse Theater Center. It’s another way of saying, One day at a time, or any of the other platitudes spouted by various self-help sources. But they’re only platitudes until they apply to you or your friend or relative suffering from addiction to some dangerous substance.

The world premiere play is written by Spike Manton and Harry Teinowitz (more about them later) and directed by Jackson Gay; it’s the story of five addicts thrown together in a therapy group at a residential rehab center. The format allows each of them to tell their stories and for us to see them develop personal connections and begin to care about each other and about their own futures. The play’s marketing tagline is “A comedy that takes sobriety seriously.”

Chiké Johnson and Melissa Gilbert. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

A polished script and snappy dialogue well delivered by the six actors make this 90-minute production move quickly. But the play has heart as well as humor and will make you think of your own or friends’ or relatives’ experiences with addiction and recovery. It’s an experience that affects many of us, since, as Barb tells her group, about 10 percent of American adults are alcoholics. And those alcoholic habits affect family, friends and coworkers.

Harry (Dan Butler, who played sports anchor Bulldog Briscoe on “Frasier”) is the protagonist and newest member of the therapy group. He’s a veteran on-air sports personality for whom drinking was part of his game. He doesn’t think he’s an alcoholic; he’s just there because he’ll lose his job if he doesn’t go through rehab. He doesn’t realize at first that rehab means he has to stop drinking—forever.

Therapist Barb, played by veteran stage and TV actor Melissa Gilbert (“Little House on the Prairie”), has her own history of addiction, as well as experience as a magician. She meets with the group for three hours every morning and thus we meet and get to know their stories. Vince (Chiké Johnson), comes from a family with a history of alcoholism. “I’m here because I won’t be my father,” he says. He’s been through rehab before and this time he’s determined to make it work. Isaiah (Keith D .Gallagher) is a former pharmacist who consumed too many of his own products. Andrea (Elizabeth Laidlaw) has gone through five husbands and despairs of having no friends. And George (Jonathan Moises Olivares), the youngest member of the group, rides his bike and frequently disappears. Intermittently, each of them tells a brief story about an actual addict whose image is projected with their years of sobriety.

Elizabeth Laidlaw and Dan Butler. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The production moves briskly on the Greenhouse’s main stage, with simple set changes managed primarily by the actors. The clever set design is by Regina Garcia with lighting by Simean Carpenter and sound design by Ray Nardelli and Christopher M. LaPorte. The characters show the passage of time with regular costume changes, designed and organized by Caitlin McLeod. Projection design is by Michael Commendatore.

The story behind When Harry Met Rehab is mostly playwright Harry Teinowitz’s story. His career was similar to Harry’s and so was his drinking problem. He says, “If I can get sober, anyone can get sober.” Spike Manton shared Harry’s sports radio experience and co-wrote another play, Leaving Iowa, that ran for a year at the Royal George Theater.

When Harry Met Rehab may remind you of your own experiences with alcoholics. I have my own; I almost married him. The play is poignant, entertaining and possibly even helpful. And it needs a better title. When Harry Met Rehab sounds like something a writer thought of in the middle of a sleepless night and said, Hmmm, that could be a play. Harry’s experience deserves something better than this silly and derivative title that has no connection to the work it’s derived from. It sounds more like a standup act than a dramatic work written with humanity.

When Harry Met Rehab continues at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., through January 30. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm and 3pm matinees Saturday and Sunday. The performance is 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $42-$85 plus processing fees. For info, call 773 404-7336 or visit the website.

COVID-19 precautions: Attendees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Audience members must wear a mask in the building at all times, regardless of vaccination status, unless eating or drinking.

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Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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