'The White Chip' stage play humorously and candidly tackles addiction and recovery

The White Chip is a Theatrical Outfit & Dad’s Garage Co-Production running January 25 – February 19, 2023. Pictured: Gina Rickicki, Andrew Benator, Tom Key. (Photo Credit: Casey G Ford Photography).

 The experience of a full-blown alcoholic is rarely seen, and though the addict may find clever, even brilliant ways to rationalize their drinking, the true nature of the disease can remain elusive. Sean Daniels’ brutally honest and often hilarious play “The White Chip” became a New York Times Critic’s Pick after its Manhattan debut in 2019. It’s on stage now at Dad’s Garage as a collaboration with Theatrical Outfit, and with three actors portraying over 30 characters. Sean Daniels joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with Tim Stoltenberg, the play’s co-director and artistic director of Dad’s Garage, and Theatrical Outfit artistic director Matt Torney.

Interview highlights:

Why Daniels, a recovered alcoholic, felt a new voice was needed on the topic:

“I got sober in 2011, and right afterwards, so many people in our field came up to me, and they all said, ‘I’m so glad that you’re sober. I’ve actually been sober for about four years,’ and, you know, part of me was so happy for them. Now the part of me is like, ‘Where the ‘F’ were you? Like, why did I think that I was the only person going through this? Why did I think that I was the only person in the American theater that couldn’t hold their liquor?'” recalled Daniels. “I started to decide to try to put something out there, to try to raise awareness.”

He added, “Because of my time at Dad’s and because of, I think, just how I am as a person, I don’t really understand things unless they’re funny or through the lens of comedy, because I think that’s how I think the vast majority of people were. So I tried to write a funny play about the perils of addiction, so that the word could get out there. Because we all grew up in the War on Drugs and we grew up in afterschool specials, and the last thing I wanted was for it to be either of those things. I wanted it to be something that the average person could enjoy.”

A cast of three, taking on over 30 distinct roles:

“The three actors are just creative geniuses,” said Torney. “You’ve got Andrew Benator, who is playing Steven, part of whose journey is connected to Sean’s own experience. You’ve got Tom Key, who’s playing most of the male roles in the show, and then Gina Rickicki, who’s a Dad’s Garage company member who’s playing most of the female roles in the show.”

He went on, “The major arc of the show is how [Steven] relates to his family, and how, as a family they deal or fail to deal with addiction. But then also there’s wives, lovers, a boss from a theater who is a casting director that Tom Key does with tremendous hilarity, and then characters from different moments in Steven’s life – college friends, school friends, people associated with the Mormon church, and then other people that he meets in the context of addiction and recovery. There’s several scenes set in a recovery center in Florida that are absolutely brilliant, and some of the high points of the show, both in terms of their comic value, but in terms of the revelations that Tom, Gina and Andrew were able to bring to that space and that conversation.”

A lively collaboration between playwright and co-directors from different theaters:

“When Tim and I first sat down, we knew that for the play to be successful, it had to be very, very, very, very funny, like hilarious, using all the kind of different comedic tools we could throw at it, and also very, very, very real,” said Torney. “Those two things could exist in the same space. We could offer a lens on addiction, on alcoholism that had never been seen before in Atlanta in this way. And we also made an agreement – we said if what we made felt too much like a Theatrical Outfit production, or too much like a Dad’s production, we would’ve failed. So we really were trying to create something that was a true collaboration.”

“I think what Matt and Tim have done so brilliantly is, recovery doesn’t follow the traditional narrative of what plays do. Plays are like, you meet them at the beginning, it gets worse, then it gets better and it’s over. And actually what’s about recovery is sometimes about maintenance, which is not considered one of the Aristotelian aspects of drama, which is just like, ‘And then you just maintain for a long period of time,'” Daniels reflected. “What I think they’ve done so brilliantly is kept the tension and the joy through the whole thing, so you really feel like you’re living with these people for a long period of time.”

“The White Chip” is on stage at Dad’s Garage through Feb. 19. Tickets and more information are available at https://www.dadsgarage.com/the-white-chip.