As I prepare for another production of Lush!, which I wrote about the first woman who was involved with Alcholics Anonymous, I thought I’d share the story behind the story.
It started onstage, when I was playing the supporting role of “Anne Smith,” wife of Dr. Bob Smith, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in the play Bill W. and Dr. Bob. (Bill Wilson, of course, is the other co-founder.) It was a role I felt I was meant to do, since my paternal grandmother’s name was Mary Anne Smith … and her husband was my grandfather, “Dr. Bob” Hume. Loving that connection, I set out to bring the role to life.
During one performance, the unbidden thought popped into my head, “Wait a minute. Everyone makes such a fuss over these two guys. Who was the first WOMAN in AA?”
I didn’t know the answer.
Research revealed a fascinating and unknown story of a true American heroine. I had no idea that such a powerful and exciting tale could be lost in the shuffle of history’s cards—and decided that it was my duty and privilege to bring this tale to today’s audiences.
Marty Mann was born in 1904 in Chicago, to wealth and privilege. Despite her advantages, she wound up a hopeless and homeless drunk, living alone on a park bench in London, England. How could it happen? She had been smart and beautiful, with a sparkling personality and success in her work.
But that’s what happens to alcoholics. The disease is no respecter of education, class, sex or family name.
Today, everyone knows someone who is a drunk. Almost every family has one … or more. Statistics tell us that one out of every 10 people is an alcoholic. But in Marty’s day, nobody believed that women could be alcoholics. And until 1935, no program for helping the addicted had ever truly worked, despite attempts of all kinds throughout world history. So when Marty tried to get help, she was not only fighting her disease, but also the men in AA who didn’t want her there!
Well, Marty went on to change America. That journey is what my play is about. I called it Lush! because someone once referred to a friend with that term, and I felt a huge wave of embarrassment and shame wash over me on her behalf. I remembered that reaction when researching Marty Mann’s life, and realized I had found the perfect title. So I not only wrote it, but then directed it.
The two-act play is performed as “reading theater,” with the actors playing multiple roles. My husband, Ted Pethes, provides fabulous clarinet music between scenes, with the songs not only setting the mood, but indicating exactly the year of the upcoming scene. Musical snobs love that add-on! The show stars Mr. Ron Young as “Dr. Bob” and Mr. Dean Apple as “Bill W.” (reprising their roles from Bill W. and Dr. Bob). After directing three other actresses to play “Marty Mann,” guess who finally decided to accept her fate and play the lead role? Yup: moi.
The most amazing part of performing this play is the audience reactions. Not just the standing ovations, or the tears we see from the stage, or the roars of laughter we hear (drunks ARE funny … sometimes), but the comments that come back to us long after the show. The first time we performed it, a woman decided to get sober! Others have described it as “life-changing.”
It has been performed twice at the ABC Recovery Center in Indio, and twice at the Tolerance Education Center in Rancho Mirage, as well as at the Indio Performing Arts Center and the world-famous Betty Ford Center, where they acknowledge that without Marty Mann, Betty Ford herself might never have found sobriety.
Of course, we hope the tale will someday end with the play being discovered and becoming the Hollywood movie (with an Oscar-winning role for its star) it should be. Come see it while it is still in its fledgling stage!
Lush! will be performed at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Palm Springs Womans’ Club, 314 Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are only $10. The production benefits Michael’s House, a Palm Springs recovery center, with its Heroes in Recovery program. Call Zigi at (760) 464-2138.
It’s for a great cause. Please come see it!