Review: Becoming Dr. Ruth

Becoming Dr. Ruth; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; $26-$38. B Street Theatre, 2711 B Street; (916) 443-5300; Through Feb. 26.
Rated 4.0

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