Review of Becoming Dr. Ruth
By Mark St. Germain
Directed by Elizabeth Craven & Betty Abramson
For tickets / schedule :
www.mainstagewest.com
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: January 5-22, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(January 7, 2017)

Becoming Dr. Ruth Main Stage West

Photo by Larry R. Wagner for the Mendocino Theatre Company.

Dr. Ruth’s dry wit and accessibility transformed sex education and therapy, moving her from a 15-minute radio show into becoming an international celebrity. She is a master at humorous and challenging responses to questions about sexuality, building on years of study and an agile mind. Becoming Dr. Ruth is a reminiscence of the daunting childhood that created her strength and independence. Diane Larson’s scenic design offers a cozy lived-in apartment filled with aging chairs, books, and knick-knacks. Dr. Ruth mourns her third husband who has just passed away, leading her to question who she is without him.

While there are moments of scintillating advice, Becoming Dr. Ruth is primarily the story of her childhood as a Jew escaping from Hitler’s regime. Her singular narrative is told in a matter-of-fact style by Ann Woodhead, adding to the horrific realism. One of the lucky few to be chosen for the Kindertransport program out of Germany, her situation did not improve much in the “kindly” host country. At ten years old, she had to fend for herself, slowly realizing she would never see her parents again. Instead of giving up, she fought to find the person she wanted to be, at times literally, living everywhere from a hard-working kibbutz to the classical avenues of Paris. She discovered her home and purpose in New York, where her dedication and quirky humor found an audience.

Becoming Dr. Ruth Main Stage West

Photo by Larry R. Wagner for the Mendocino Theatre Company.

Woodhead uses items in the apartment to piece together Dr. Ruth’s past, gently wrapping them in packing paper, adding movement to an otherwise inactive play. It is a quietly moving performance, without flash or drama, yet Woodhead keeps attention on her story, with Dr. Ruth’s unique accent and mannerisms. Historical photos are projected through the apartment window in parallel with Woodhead’s performance, and Elizabeth Craven’s sound design brings locations to life—the Kindertransport train station, saying farewell to her mother for the last time, and bustling energy of Times Square. The play rewards an imaginative audience, augmented by the authenticity of Craven and Betty Abramson’s direction.

Becoming Dr. Ruth challenges preconceptions, offering a woman who pushed forward to discover who she was, willing to take risks, and searching to recapture the sense of family that was lost to Auschwitz. In her journey we can discover the strength to keep moving forward, making the difficult decisions necessary to fully realize our potential.