Behind the diminutive, jovial and blunt exterior of iconic sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a wealth of emotional information that is brought to the surface in Debra Jo Rupp’s earthy, funny and touching portrait of the woman who beat all odds to become one of radio and television’s most popular celebrities with her frank and honest and often witty remarks regarding sex with an unmistakable accent that shot her to fame.
In BECOMING DR. RUTH, beautifully crafted by Mark St. Germain and directed with a keen insight into character and pace by Julianne Boyd that is now in performance at the Westside Theatre (Upstairs) Debra Jo Rupp (from That 70s Show) captures the essence and the heart of that little woman who could – her courage, her intellect and her perseverance.
Preparing to move out of her Washington Heights apartment (nicely detailed by Brian Prather) that she had shared with her third husband Fred for thirty six years (recently deceased) – and two children – packing up boxes of books and family photos and a collection of turtles she interrupts her phone conversation by telling the person on the other end of the line that she has “guests” – gesturing to the audience – and immediately we are drawn into her story. A story told with great wit and wisdom. Projections by Daniel Brodie) giving a theatrical flair to this feisty woman’s tale of survival and success.
When Hitler arrived in her homeland and her parents were carted off, little Ruth was sent to Switzerland where they were accepting Jewish children. It is a harrowing tale told on the brink of tears but tears are withheld because German Jews don’t cry. They smile as her Grandmother taught her to do and make the best out of every situation and to take advantage of any and all opportunities that may arise, which she did in abundance – all the way to becoming Dr. Ruth.
Loving to sing and dance (she had a terrible singing voice) she educated herself by watching Shirley Temple movies and reading True Confessions. And receiving scholarships.
Discovering that she was a romantic and attracted to handsome men she also learned about sex early on which ultimately led her to writing books on sex, inventing a sexual board game, and giving advice on a radio show that became a huge hit where she dispensed information on the size of ones penis, masturbation, and oral sex. She shied away from S&M and bestiality (as she wasn’t a vet).
Dr. Ruth also collected doll houses. They represented family for her. A family that was torn apart. With her neat and ordered houses she could control that which she never was able to do. It’s a very telling and moving moment conveyed honestly by the consummate performer Debra Jo Rupp.
I won’t spoil any more of the delicious tidbits conveyed in this fine production but will leave them for you to discover when you see it first hand.
A Barrington Stage Company production. Photos: Carol Rosegg
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