Dr. Ruth – Review by Tom Holehan

As theatres across the country struggle with how to return to live presentations in the wake of a pandemic, some Connecticut venues have been successfully offering limited in-person and online streaming services. So, two cheers for Norwalk’s Music Theatre of Connecticut for its current presentation of “Becoming Dr. Ruth”. This solo show by Mark St. Germain is the story of Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer, the diminutive, heavily-accented sex therapist from countless radio and television appearances.

St. Germain has had great success with fictionalized plays based on famous people like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison (“Camping with Henry and Tom”) and Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis (“Freud’s Last Session”). “Becoming Dr. Ruth” came about after St. Germain was advised to check out Westheimer’s biography, “All in a Lifetime”, and discovered there was a lot more to this little German woman with the funny accent than her talk show appearances would indicate. The play began life in 2013 at the Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts and was written specifically for the actress Debra Jo Rupp (perhaps best known as the ditsy mom in television’s “That ‘70s Show”).

St. Germain’s bio play is a smart and engrossing 95 minutes of theatre and well worth a visit to MTC. It focuses on one day in the life of the good doctor as she prepares for a move. Dr. Ruth’s upbringing would rival the most colorful of any Dickensian character. Separated from her parents by the Nazis when she was 10- years-old, young Ruth was shipped to Sweden as part of the kindertransport program that placed Jewish children with adopted parents. In short order she soon worked on a kibbutz, became a sharp-shooter for the
Israeli army, survived a bombing that left her temporarily paralyzed, married three men and had two children all before she became famous for talking about sex.

At MTC Amy Griffin anchors the larger-than-life role with an energetic and likable impersonation. She seems to be enjoying herself and we often go along for the ride even as the actress has trouble handling the play’s shifts in tone. It results in a performance that is ultimately more enthusiastic than substantive and rushing the play’s crucial, moving coda is a misstep. This doesn’t mean Griffin isn’t entertaining, but the subject deserves more than just laugh lines.

MTC hasn’t really solved the streaming problem involved with using one stationery camera resulting in a flat projection of the play. It isn’t Griffin’s fault that watching the live stream doesn’t allow you to appreciate
the actress’ facial expressions like you would sitting in the theatre. Luckily, there is seating available for those who want to view the show in person. Lindsay Fuori’s apartment setting certainly lives up to Dr. Ruth’s
description and RJ Romeo’s lighting is serviceable even though a series of solo spots tend to distract needlessly. Director Kevin Connors has given his actress plenty of room to strut her stuff and Dr. Ruth, herself, would
probably readily approve.

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” continues through February 21 at MTC in Norwalk. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.454.3883 or visit: www.musictheatreofct.com.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One
Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.