By: Patrick Christiano
December 20, 2021: Becoming Dr. Ruth re-unites four-time Tony Award-nominee Tovah Feldshuh with Scott Schwartz, who directed her Tony nominated performance as Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony. That play opened on Broadway October 15, 2003, and before it had closed in January 2005, it had become the longest running one woman show in Broadway history, with 493 performances. Now the two, Scott and Tovah, are at it again with Becoming Dr. Ruth, another one woman play, about another Jewish archetype. They debuted their production this summer at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, where Mr. Schwartz is the Artistic Director. The results were a smashing success and Tovah was illuminating.
The role of Dr. Ruth, like the role of Golda Meir, feels tailor made for the consummate actress of Jewish heritage, and once again, as she has done for four decades, she does not disappoint. She is simply marvelous, the embodiment of the real-life Dr. Ruth, but it is Dr. Ruth’s compelling story that is the ultimate star of the evening.
The play by Mark St. Germain chronicles the remarkable life of the noted psychologist, the larger-than- life Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who almost-everyone is familiar with from her career as a pioneering radio and television sex therapist. However, few know the details of her incredible journey. She fled the Nazis in the Kindertransport and joined the Hagenah in Jerusalem, turning into a sharp-shooting sniper, before coming to America as a single-mother. Her struggles to succeed, as a single mother in her adopted country, are cleverly illustrated by the playwright as the details of her inspiring life unfold.
When the play begins, we discover Dr. Ruth, alone in her upper Westside apartment overing looking the Hudson River. She is on the phone and packing to move. We wonder why she is leaving this incredible view. When she finishes her call, she continues to pack, but quickly breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. She informs them of the particulars surrounding her move. Immediately were taken in by her charismatic charm. She relates the facts of her story, all the while simultaneously dispensing advice, opinions, and antidotes drawn from a lifetime of living, learning, loving, and discovering the joys of being alive.
The two worked with playwright Mark St. Germain, even incorporating some new dialogue suggested by Dr. Ruth and enhanced further by Tovah. Visuals of many of the people in the story have been added, but I am not convinced they contribute much to the tale’s essential power.
Dr. Ruth is an inspiring tale filled with the humor, openness, and the life-affirming spirt of Karola Ruth Siegel, the girl who became Dr. Ruth, America’s most famous sex therapist. Tovah Feldshuh, guided by Scott Schwartz, skillfully captures the wise and witty essence of the beloved media icon with an illuminating portrait that is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
Anyone interested in the true-life stories of Holocaust survivors will find Dr. Ruth a memorable 90 minutes that will resonate long after the evening has ended.
Becoming Dr. Ruth is now playing at the Edmond J. Safra Hall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial in Battery Park through January 2, 2022. The performance runs 90 minutes. The is a talk back with Dr. Ruth and Tovah Feldshuh on December 22 following the 7pm performance.
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Photo: Carol Rosegg, Josh Halpern, Kate Milford