An AA meeting might seem like easy pickings for a playwright.
A single room setting. A circle of troubled characters wrestling their demons. The space given to personal testimony and confession. So much low-hanging dramatic fruit.
But Canadian playwright Adam Bock charts a less obvious course in Before the Meeting, which focuses not on the rituals of the meeting itself but on the personalities working behind the scenes.
Gail (played by Jane Phegan), 17 years sober, is the de facto organiser, running a regular AA meeting in the basement of a church. She’s also a mother figure to Nicole (Alex Malone), a recovering addict and, somewhat more fractiously, to Ron (Tim McGarry), a gay, middle-aged fusspot who wants nothing more than to reorganise Gail’s tried-and-tested seating arrangement.
We meet them at the same time they meet Tim (Tim Walker), a young man in crisis who quickly becomes one of Gail’s trusted helpers – to the point where he is inducted into the secrets of her coffee-making.
Bock grants us access to their backstories in a gentle but engrossing series of reveals: We learn that Nicole is pregnant to her hard-drinking boyfriend; that Ron has a long history of drug use; that Tim’s recovery is tentative at best.
Gail’s outside life becomes known to us after she receives a text from her estranged granddaughter, which opens a window into a troubled past and, somewhat later, the door to her daughter (Ariadne Sgouros), whose incandescent anger briefly but memorably shakes the walls of what for Gail is a sacred space.
Of all the characters, only Gail is granted a tell-all spotlight, a long confessional though not quite tell-all) monologue that Phegan – controls quite brilliantly.
Director Kim Hardwick oversees a clear and involving production sustains interest in ordinary lives and complex-commonplace issues. Her careful governance of the emotional throttle is vital to the success of the show and all of the performances strike as grounded, attentive to detail and truthful – an impression enhanced by Martin Kinanne’s envelopingly ordinary set, which conjures the unglamorous world of an AA meeting just about perfectly.