Becoming Dr. Ruth: In brief
Debra Jo Rupp, who played the long-suffering mom on TV's That ’70s Show, stars as diminutive and lovably accented sex therapist and media star Dr. Ruth Westheimer in a solo biography by Mark St. Germain. Julianne Boyd directs a production that originated last year at her Barrington Stage Company.
Becoming Dr. Ruth: Theater review by Raven Snook
Sweet, sincere and small—just like its subject—Mark St. Germain’s heartfelt bioplay dutifully chronicles Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s inspirational life story. It’s a skin-deep journey that only occasionally captures the charisma of the pioneering sex therapist who won America’s hearts and, um, other organs.
Character actor Debra Jo Rupp, best known for her stint as the mom on That ’70s Show, has starred in the solo piece since it originated at Massachusetts’s Barrington Stage Company in 2012. She’s got her character’s welcoming smile and straightforwardness down pat, though that signature accent could still use some work. (At times she inexplicably veers into Elmer Fudd). As she packs up the contents of her overcrowded Washington Heights apartment for a move, each keepsake inspires a new anecdote. Photos of her parents spark stories of her childhood in Germany, her father being whisked away to a work camp and her salvation as one of the few Jewish children taken in by Switzerland. An old journal brings tales of first love, her postwar move to Israel, where she trained as a sniper, and losing her virginity. It continues thus, with Rupp addressing the audience directly, through five countries, four languages, three husbands, two children and countless jokes.
Only when she lands her breakthrough gig in 1980 as the host of Sexually Speaking—the radio and later TV show that turned her into a beloved and oft-parodied media personality—does the play heat up. Her frank, sex-positive advice was groundbreaking and shocking, especially coming from a nice little middle-aged lady with a bizarre voice. She helped change the conversation about sex in America, and yet no time is devoted to the context of her accomplishments or her legacy. Like so-so sex, Becoming Dr. Ruth makes you feel good but stops short of giving you a night to remember.—Theater review by Raven Snook
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