Stages of Recovery

Ex-addicts take their life stories Off-Broadway

Telephone Tom, 47, is a former crack addict and alcoholic who now works in construction, though he is missing half his right leg. "I lost it, so if you find it let me know," he says. "I lost it in '99. Bad circulation. I like to say standing in bars too long, but I was a heavy smoker." During live performances, he adjusts the lights by hopping up and down a ladder.

He's seen the show so many times by now that he can recite every line, but still he gets choked up, especially during the scene where an addict learns she is HIV-positive. "After 13 years, it still has that effect," says Tom, who is HIV-positive. "I'll start crying."

The run-through lasts a little longer than an hour. While only one or two people flub their lines, the scenes do not always flow smoothly; Bob has to prod the actors to enter or exit on cue. After the rehearsal ends, someone removes a few chairs from the stage and another person rips the scene list off the wall. It is past 11 p.m. when Bob and the last actors straggle out the door.

Places, everyone: Bob directs a scene as Telephone Tom (seated) looks on.
photo: Cary Conover
Places, everyone: Bob directs a scene as Telephone Tom (seated) looks on.

Opening night was less than a week away. The theater has 100 seats, and so far Bob had sold only 150 of the 800 total tickets. But he wasn't concerned. His goal was never to make money; it was to reach what he calls "our audience"—other people in recovery. And so he had given away 250 tickets to treatment centers and shelters. "With 250 people coming from all these organizations, it's a success now," he says. "If I never sold another ticket, it doesn't matter."

Visions is playing at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 West 26th Street, through April 9. For tickets, $10, visit or call 212-352-3101.

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