“That ’70s Show” mom Debra Jo Rupp stars as America’s most famous sex therapist in Off-Broadway’s “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” which had its New York premiere Tuesday night at the Westside Theatre.
The one-woman play offers a look at the breadth of Karola Ruth Siegel’s life, including her flight from the Nazis in the Kindertransport and her time as a scout and sniper in the Haganah in Jerusalem. The actual Dr. Ruth Westheimer will participate in a post-show talkback series beginning Wednesday and following Rupp's performances on Nov. 6, 13, 20 and Dec. 18.
Written by Mark St. Germain (“Freud’s Last Session”) and directed by Julianne Boyd, “Becoming Dr. Ruth” had its world premiere at the Barrington Stage Company, where Boyd is artistic director, followed by a well-received run at TheaterWorks Hartford.
Here’s a look at what some of the critics had to say about the play's latest incarnation.
David Gordon, TheaterMania: “The conceit is a nifty one: Ruth is packing up her apartment as she prepares to move following the death of her husband, Fred. She immediately invites the audience in to help her go through boxes, coming across token after token that brings about a new memory. … St. Germain has crafted an enjoyable tribute to a figure of popular culture who truly deserves it. … If you thought you knew all about Dr. Ruth, the woman, the myth, the legend, you might just be mistaken.”
David Rooney, The New York Times: “Mark St. Germain neuters the woman whose remarkable life it depicts, reducing her to an adorable bundle of innocuous jokes, sentimental clichés and over-explained metaphors. … Such a fascinating subject deserves a less superficial bioplay than this one, whose lackluster writing is matched by Julianne Boyd’s pedestrian direction. … Rather than this well-meaning tribute, I kept wishing that the woman herself were onstage reflecting on her life and taking questions.”
Jessica Shaw, Entertainment Weekly: “Rupp gives the audience a history lesson about Dr. Ruth's admittedly fascinating life. …Unfortunately, playwright Mark St. Germain and director Julianne Boyd don't allow any of the powerful moments to breathe. … As Dr. Ruth herself could tell you, sometimes you don't need to push so hard.”
Matthew Murray, Talkin’ Broadway: “Rather than settle in to the comfortable public caricature of Westheimer, St. Germain has thrown almost all of it aside to instead focus on the far more complex woman underneath. Throw in the gentle direction of Julianne Boyd and, most important, the intricate portrayal of Westheimer from Debra Jo Rupp, and you have a one-woman show that is far more interesting and informative than any you had a right to expect.”
“Becoming Dr. Ruth,” through Jan. 12 at the Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St. Tickets: $79. Call 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com.
Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn