Review: Becoming Dr. Ruth
Mark St. Germain is known for his entertaining plays about figures from our past, covering the likes of Typhoid Mary, Thomas Edison and Tammy Wynette, to name a few. And while St. Germain is adept at what he does, I’ll confess I approached Becoming Dr. Ruth with trepidation. Dr. Ruth Westheimer had a great run as a pop culture icon 40 years ago: a diminutive matron (with a distinct accent) enthusiastically dispensing frank sex advice on the radio. Folks listened discreetly, just as white ’50s teens surreptitiously tuned into stations featuring African-American artists and ’60s teens sampled forbidden psychedelic rock.
But how do you relate Dr. Ruth to today’s young adults, who typically don’t own a radio and have only known the teeming internet packed with websites that make Dr. Ruth’s once-daring show seem tame? When I asked three 20-somethings if they knew who Dr. Ruth was, I got blank stares.
Yet Becoming Dr. Ruth pays off (even if you didn’t experience her ’80s heyday) because of her compelling back story: She narrowly escaped the Nazis as a child, then become a Jewish sniper in Jerusalem, a psychologist in Paris, a single mom and sex therapist in America, and then belatedly, a celebrity. And visiting actress Anne O’Sullivan (who understudied the role during the play’s 2013 Off Broadway premiere) is thoroughly enjoyable as a happy, indefatigable survivor in this breezy, feel-good solo show.Jeff Hudson