Review: BECOMING DR. RUTH At Village Theatre

A one-woman show, but with two stars

By: Jan. 22, 2024
Review: BECOMING DR. RUTH At Village Theatre
Review: BECOMING DR. RUTH At Village Theatre
Naomi Jacobson as Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer
in Becoming Dr. Ruth at Village Theatre (2024).
Photo credit: Auston James.

Village Theatre has welcomed a new show and a new Doctor to the stage this weekend. With a set that can’t leave your mind after stepping out of the Issaquah theater, and a leading lady who steals the show (good news, since she’s the only one in it), Becoming Dr. Ruth is a labor of love and arduous work by all those involved. 

The one-woman show from playwright Mark St. Germain tells the harrowing journey of a woman whose life has been filled with challenges the average person cannot begin to fathom. Karola Ruth Westheimer was born on June 4, 1928, in Germany to a Jewish family. At the age of ten, she was sent away to a school in Switzerland with the hopes of keeping her safe from Nazi rule. Her parents were both killed in concentration camps, leaving Ruth with no answers about their safety or livelihood. The audience joins her on a journey through her life from 1928 to 1997, and though the show drags at points, the 90-minute play, directed by Holly Twyford, leads to an exciting climax, where we get a glance at her famed radio call-in show, Sexually Speaking.

The show tells this heartbreaking story with gentleness and passion. Offering an inside look into the cards Westheimer was dealt.

The Becoming Dr. Ruth stage is masterfully crafted with dozens upon dozens of white boxes, both filling all sides of the stage and hanging from the ceiling. These boxes surround an important first detail of the show, a few classic brown moving boxes, barely unpacked, with clearly sentimental belongings lying on top and on the ground around them.

At first glance, the set looks simple, and you begin to wonder how one woman can make this blank slate of a canvas interesting enough to keep you engaged for 90 minutes. That’s when the second star of the show enters the building, set designer Paige Hathaway.

Review: BECOMING DR. RUTH At Village Theatre
Naomi Jacobson as Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer
in Becoming Dr. Ruth at Village Theatre (2024).
Photo credit: Auston James.

The first “wow!” earned from the audience came when Westheimer opened a stage left box, revealing a model of the four-room apartment she lived in as a child. The Frankfurt model was, thankfully, not the last, with many others being revealed throughout the show, marking each new chapter of her life.

Sentimental keepsakes, books sneakily read as a child, and graduation gowns were hidden within the remaining boxes, with each one opened feeling like immeasurably important context.

Of course, the boxes cannot stand on their own, and Naomi Jacobson (Westheimer) is an outstanding scene partner.

From the second she walked on stage, the entire audience knew it would be hard to look away. With a magnetic stage presence, Jacobson delivered the 90-minute show with ease, never missing a beat. Almost more impressively, always knowing which box to open to find the right prop. At points, it felt like we were watching a hologram of Westheimer telling her life story (in the best way).

Jacobson’s pacing drives the show forward, quickly moving from one beat to the next while giving each the time and patience they deserve. In the points where the script dragged, Jacobson did not. She also appears as a master of comedic timing and delivery, evoking laughter from the audience in all the right places. 

It is hard to ignore the timing and cultural context of a few scenes in Becoming Dr. Ruth during a time of unrest in the Middle East. Though this is Dr. Westheimer's lived experience, mentions of Zionism as well as her call to come home to Israel left me wondering how audiences might react given the current socio-political situation. 

After the show, every audience member went home with a newfound respect for Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer, whether they knew of her or not. Through horrific odds, she was able to make a beautiful life for herself, her children, and her beloved four grandchildren. 

Becoming Dr. Ruth runs until 2/18 at Village Theatre in Issaquah, with a subsequent run in Everett from 2/24 - 3/17. For tickets and more information visit Village Theatre Online at: www.villagetheatre.org/




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