If you had asked me about Dr. Ruth before I watched BECOMING Dr. Ruth I would have vague memories of an older lady with an accent who used to talk about sex on the radio in the ’90s and early 2000s. Now, thanks to the stellar performance by Tovah Feldshuh in the play now streaming from North Coast Repertory Theatre, I have learned so much about Dr. Ruth‘s extraordinary life.
BECOMING Dr. Ruth, written by Mark St. Germain, with lots of corporation from Dr. Westhimer (her married last name) and directed by David Ellenstein is a delightfully energetic walk down Ruth’s memory lane. Taking inspiration from Ruth’s energy, infectious giggle, and following her grandmother’s advice to “Always smile and be cheerful” keeps the show light and moving, even when she’s discussing the many hardships that her life.
The one-woman show is set in her apartment, covered in boxes as she prepares to move. This allows for the excavation of items that cover the breadth of her life up to the present day. The set by Marty Burnett is open, well light, and feels authentically lived in. Big windows act as screens for pictures to be projected upon.
The play is Ruth talking directly to the audience, which makes everything flow more naturally because of this decision.
Born in Germany, Karola Ruth Siegel was only 10 years old when she was sent to Switzerland on a Kindertransport. German parents sent them thinking they would be educated while staying safe from the Nazis, but instead the children were then turned into servants for Swiss families. Waving as the train as it left Germany was the last time she would see her family.
After that, she went to Palestine where she joined the army and worked as a sniper and messenger. Her famously small stature (she’s 4′ 7″) made her a perfect sniper and sharpshooter. At 20 years old she was seriously injured in the 1947-78 Palestine War, which took her life in yet another direction. She went to Paris where she started taking university courses and ultimately made her way to America where she continued her education.
From love, marriage, children, to the infamous radio show that launched her into fame, the play touches upon it all. Feldshuh carries the show with aplomb; channeling the openness, exuberance of spirit, and the vulnerability of speaking about unspeakable heartbreak. Her accent and giggle are so good if you close your eyes you may forget you’re not actually listening to the actual Dr. Ruth.
BECOMING Dr. Ruth is a delightfully humorous, educational, and confident production. When it was over I was glad to have learned more about Dr. Ruth, and a sense that love and optimism can carry you through even the most challenging times.
BECOMING Dr. Ruth
Directed by David Ellenstein
Starring Tovah Feldshuh
Cinematographer/Editor – Aaron Rumley
Set Design – Marty Burnett
Costume Design – Elisa Benzoni
Covid-19 Compliance Officer/Props- Phillip Korth
Wig Design – Peter Herman
Looking for more reiews? Click here