Friday, June 14, 2013

Review of "Becoming Dr. Ruth" - Off-Broadway

 Becoming Dr. Ruth has moved to Off-Broadway for a limited time.  The following is my review during its run at Theaterworks in Hartford, CT.

Who is Dr. Ruth?  Is she just the diminutive cultural icon with a ubiquitous presence on TV talk shows promoting sex education to the masses?  Or is there a more complex, layered woman beyond her public persona?  In Becoming Dr. Ruth, the one-woman show starring Debra Jo Rupp, we learn a great deal about the fascinating experiences, struggles, and triumphs this octogenarian has led. 

Playwright Mark St. Germain has crafted an entertaining, fact-filled production that never becomes boring or mundane.  While there has been a tremendous amount of sadness during Ruth Westheimer’s lifetime, St. Germain always follows up a melancholy or sorrowful passage with an amusing anecdote or story, which brings laughter and a smile to the audience.

The show is structured with the character of Dr. Ruth speaking directly to the audience, breaking down the fourth wall between actor and theatergoers.  We are described as her guests.  The concept works perfectly for the small, intimate setting of the Theaterworks performance space.   The audience does feel as if they are sitting in her cluttered living room as she packs up the memory-filled apartment, all the time talking, reminiscing, joking and, yes, occasionally dolling out sex-laden advice.  Scenic/Projections Designer Brian Prather and Director Julianne Boyd have seamlessly incorporated rear screen projections to visually amplify pictures and mementos that Dr. Ruth lovingly shares with the audience. 

Actress Debra Jo Rupp, a stage veteran who took an eight-year hiatus to star in the television series, That ‘70s Show, gives a tour de force performance as the effusive and sprightly Dr. Ruth Westheimer.  Rupp doesn’t impersonate the former member of the Haganah (the Jewish underground), but embodies her very essence.  She is Dr. Ruth.  The actress conveys a broad range of emotions and sentiments as she relates Dr. Ruth’s journey, which in the play begins soon after Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany and ends as fame and notoriety engulfs her.  In addition to her acting skills give kudos to Rupp and Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis for engendering the doctor’s very recognizable German accent.

Director Julianne Boyd, who first helmed the show last summer at the Berkshires’ Barrington Stage Company, knows both the material and actress well.  In staging a one-person show the danger is for the actor to overly lecture or directly impart information to the audience.  A skillful director will be able to balance the need to convey the text while at the same time dramatizing the material.  Boyd astutely accommodates both needs to deliver a highly satisfying production.

Becoming Dr. Ruth—a theatrical experience to savor.

2 comments:

Jayne Jorden said...

A 5 Star production in my opinion !
This is the kind of "reality show" which is honoring verses ridiculous. The way the writer brings the audience in as part of the show, in being her "guests" to share her memories, along with the method in which the director stages the acting, props, set design and scrim to send the message of this amazing woman's life and how she "Became Dr. Ruth", was brilliant. Debra Rupp's portrayal of this legendary sex therapist is warm and embracing, at best. Debra showed us Dr. Ruth's strength through emotional memories, innocent humor within tender topics of sex (as her aim was to "educate" and thus improve our world by it...which I believe she succeeded), while digging deep into her heart to draw up those memories that framed her life and forging forward through tremendous obstacles to do so...could not have been better portrayed even by Dr. Ruth herself. My applause to everyone associated with this show and I personally thank Dr. Ruth for giving us the opportunity to know her a little better and letting us love her for who she really is and the process of her "BECOMING DR. RUTH". by Jayne Jorden

Jayne Jorden said...

A 5 Star production, in my opinion!
This is the kind of "reality show" which is honoring verses ridiculous. The way the writer brings the audience in as part of the show, in being her "guests" to share her memories, along with the method in which the director stages the acting, props, set design and scrim to send the message of this amazing woman's life and how she "Became Dr. Ruth", was brilliant. Debra Rupp's portrayal of this legendary sex therapist is warm and embracing, at best. Debra showed us Dr. Ruth's strength through emotional memories, innocent humor within tender topics of sex (as her aim was to "educate" and thus improve our world by it...which I believe she succeeded), while digging deep into her heart to draw up those memories that framed her life and forging forward through tremendous obstacles to do so...could not have been better protrayed even by Dr. Ruth herself. My applause to everyone associated with this show and I personally thank Dr. Ruth for giving us the opportunity to know her a little better and letting us love her for who she really is and the process of her "BECOMING DR. RUTH". by Jayne Jorden