Glenview's Don Clark, Evanston's Teinowitz join forces for new play 'When Harry Met Rehab'
This play is not about closure.
Harry Teinowitz's experience has no closure -- though onstage it promises to deliver laughs along with some pain.
A former stand-up comedian and on-air sports personality for the better part of 26 years with WLUP, ESPN and WGN Radio, Teinowitz and his friend and on-air partner Spike Manton have written a play, "When Harry Met Rehab," which previewed Wednesday at Chicago's Greenhouse Theater Center, its first main stage production since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When Harry Met Rehab" is loosely based on Teinowitz's ongoing recovery from alcoholism, a process in which he joins an estimated 22 million other Americans.
Bearing the tagline, "A comedy that takes sobriety seriously," the plays stars Dan Butler ("Frasier") and Melissa Gilbert ("Little House on the Prairie"). Produced by Glenview's Don Clark, it is directed by Jackson Gay.
Like Teinowitz, who started writing the play in the fifth year of what is now nearly 11 years of sobriety, Clark had his own reasons for seeing this story come to light.
His brother, Tom Clark, had his own challenges with alcohol addiction, and died two years ago of pneumonia and other complications after receiving a liver transplant. Tom Clark and Teinowitz were friends at New Trier East.
"I find it very rewarding, and I know from personal experience that a great step forward in dealing with the challenges is shining a light on them and bringing them out into the public, being open and honest about them. And that's what this play is trying to do, in part," Don Clark said.
"I pretty much have yet to meet a person who doesn't have a relative or friend who hasn't had to face those challenges," said Clark, whose prior play production experience came with Simon McBurney's "The Encounter" on Broadway.
A retired trial attorney, Clark also was executive producer of the Jeff Daniels film, "Guest Artist," and recently wrote a well-received true-crime memoir, "Summary Judgment." He's also co-owner of the Chicago Magic Lounge in the city.
"There is great strength in community and hope in humans, a willingness to help other people willing to face those challenges," Clark said, "and while the challenges are significant there are successes and there is hope, and people don't have to feel alone in honestly confronting those challenges."
That's where Teinowitz, 61, comes in.
The life of many parties during his radio career, on top of his sports knowledge he was a linchpin in an effort to connect with radio sponsors and listeners at sports and social events and remote broadcasts -- his show on ESPN was named "The Afternoon Saloon," after all.
"When I would drink, the bars wouldn't give me last call, I'd give them last call," said Teinowitz, a lifelong Evanston resident.
But it became incessant.
A DUI arrest driving home from a Chicago Blackhawks game in March 2011, which Teinowitz said he self-reported to ESPN, did not convince him he had a problem. Alcoholics, he thought, were people who needed to drink to function.
He entered a recovery program to keep his job, but if the first step of a 12-step program is admitting he was powerless over alcohol, he failed that first step.
"I legitimately walked into rehab thinking I was not an alcoholic, but that I had a lot of friends," said Teinowitz, whom IMDb credits with six film appearances including "kid at party" in "Risky Business."
"I didn't know that rehab meant that you were done drinking," he said. "If I had known that, I wouldn't have gone."
Eventually he realized that to get anything out of it he'd have to own the situation and open up to his peers also in recovery -- played in "When Harry Met Rehab" by Chicago actors Elizabeth Laidlaw, Keith D. Gallagher, ChikÚ Johnson and Richard Gomez.
Butler, the Teinowitz character, portrayed the sports anchor "Bulldog" Briscoe on the "Cheers" spinoff "Frasier." He hits the spot.
"There are times when I think Dan Butler and Harry Teinowitz might have been separated at birth," Clark said.
"I'm lucky," Teinowitz said of Butler's portrayal. "The first thing I noticed is I've lost about 50 pounds."
The producer executed a coup when, after another actress had to bow out due to an earlier commitment, on late notice Gilbert signed on to play the role of the recovery program's therapist, a former addict herself.
Gilbert might be best known for playing Laura Ingalls in "Little House on the Prairie," but Gilbert has 79 acting credits on the IMDb. She was a producer on "Guest Artist," which won 13 film festival awards.
"She's a tremendous talent and one of the hardest-working women in entertainment that I've ever met. She's got just a wealth of experience," Clark said.
Teinowitz, his script boosted by the equally funny Manton, has a two-pronged goal for "When Harry Met Rehab."
"My hope is that writing this play leads me to writing a different play, but I also hope there are people that are new to this program that I'm in, that there are people maybe who are thinking that they need help that would see this and say, 'I need to go to a meeting,'" he said.
"I think there's no closure for me because it's an ongoing thing. It's not like college degrees, where you get handed a diploma."
'When Harry Met Rehab'Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
When: Previewing now and opening Dec. 5 for a limited engagement through Jan. 30. Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; 7 p.m. Saturday with additional matinee performances at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The performance is 90 minutes with no intermission.
Info: (773) 404-7336 or whenharrymetrehab.com
Tickets: $42-$85 plus processing fees.
COVID-19 precautions: Attendees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, phone pictures and copies of vaccination card accepted. Audience members must wear a mask in the building at all times, regardless of vaccination status, unless eating or drinking. No visitors will be permitted backstage.