BWW Review: BECOMING DR. RUTH at Square One Theatre
Admittedly, during the heyday of her popularity, I was not a big fan of Dr. Ruth Westheimer. A little old lady cheerfully and openly talking/teaching about sex seemed more like a kitschy gimmick rather than serious programming. Whether on the radio or on her Lifetime Television programs, I thought I just wasn't interested enough to pay attention. The one woman show, Becoming Dr. Ruth opened my eyes to the real Dr. Ruth and I am a little sorry that I did not learn more about her story earlier.
Directed by Tom Holehan, Square One Theatre's production of Becoming Dr. Ruth, by Mark St. Germain, tells the surprising story behind the doctor, therapist, author, and pop culture phenomenon. Born Karola Ruth Siegel, Dr. Ruth fled Nazi Germany in the Kindertransport, never to see her family again. Her treatment in Switzerland, along with other children of the Kindertransport was terrible, yet her indomitable spirit saw her through this horrendous time. After the war, Dr. Ruth went to Israel and worked as a sniper and a scout for the Haganah in Jerusalem, before coming to America to become a doctor and sex therapist.
This show rests firmly on the shoulders of its actor, Alice McMahon, who proves that she is more than up to the task. Ms. McMahon's Dr. Ruth exudes all of the humor, warmth, and unabashedly direct speech that most associate with the renowned sex therapist. Taking place in her apartment on moving day, with a nod to the fantastic set design of Greg Fairbend and Robert Mastroni, Doctor Ruth is surrounded by the treasured reminders of her life. From the first moments of the play, Ms. McMahon welcomes the audience into her home and comfortably opens up about her past like a friend or loving older relative eager to share her experiences and impart some of the knowledge that she has acquired over the years. It is not just sex talk, but the wisdom of the ages, filled with all of the poignancy of her life events. With adept agility, Ms. McMahon is able to not only get the audience to feel Dr. Ruth's pain of losing her family, and surviving her years in Switzerland and Israel, but also shrug off that pain and bounce back to the bubbly, joyful character that we recognize as the famous celebrity.
All in all, Becoming Dr. Ruth is a refreshing look at a strong, determined, and loving woman. She sees the person she is now as the culmination of all of her life experiences, the good and the bad. Despite any pain she has suffered, she has remembered that she is a person who has loved and is deserving of love. Dr. Ruth does not dwell on life's miseries, but as a testament to her resilience, sees her life's work as part of her mission to give back to the world for all of the wonderful opportunities that her history has afforded her. It is a truly uplifting show.