Walking into the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio to see Becoming Dr. Ruth, I expected to see a play about Dr. Ruth, the iconic television and radio personality. I did see a play about this person, but it was a show that delved into the real life story behind this media persona, and what her life was like before she became a radio personality. After watching Becoming Dr. Ruth, I gained a new perspective on her life, and found this show reveals Dr. Ruth’s inspiration, perseverance and determination.
Becoming Dr. Ruth is a play written by written by Mark St. Germain and directed by Jere Lee Hodgin. The show tells the story of how Karola Ruth Siegel, a Jewish woman born in 1928 survived Nazi Germany, overcame adversity, heartbreak and sorrow to become the iconic media personality known as “Dr. Ruth.” What struck me about the play is the humanity of it. The play begins as Dr. Ruth is busily packing up her apartment in Washington Heights, and she greets the audience as if they are her guests. Throughout the show it feels like she is telling her story to the audience, and there are moments in which she interacts directly with audience members. The story of her life portrayed in this show is very inspiring, and as I do not wish to give away the plot points of the show it will suffice to say it is well worth seeing Becoming Dr. Ruth.
Jane Ridley manages to capture the essence of Dr. Ruth extremely well through her accent and her mannerisms. It felt as if I was in the intimate company of Dr. Ruth for an evening. There are moments in which Ridley captures the positive spirit of Dr. Ruth, one example of this is when she joyfully begins to dance like Shirley Temple as she expresses her fondness for her and explains, “Shirley Temple makes people happy.” Equally as remarkable is the heart rending emotion that comes through in Ridley’s performance when she talks about Dr. Ruth’s parents. Another element of this production that enhanced the overall experience for me was the intimate space of the Independence Studio, this space further adds to the connection to the character and provides the feeling of being a guest in her apartment. In addition, there is a genuine sense of comfort the audience experiences through the performance of Ridley under the direction of Hodgin. Both these individuals seemed to have immersed themselves into the topic of Dr. Ruth, and the result is a spellbinding play that is captivating.
I also need to mention the production staff of Becoming Dr. Ruth who helped capture the spirit of Dr. Ruth’s story. Andrew Thompson designed the set that looks like the living room of Dr. Ruth’s apartment in New York City. The incredible sound design was done by Zachary Beattie-Brown. The Lighting Designer is Charles S. Reese. The costumes that are representative of what Dr. Ruth wore were designed by Julia Poiesz. In addition the Production Manager is Joel Markus and the Stage Manager is Angela Cucco.
Becoming Dr. Ruth runs at the Independence Studio at the Walnut Street Theatre through December 27, 2015. For more information and tickets visit their website at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call the box office at 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787.
Photo Credit: Mark Garvin
Final Thought: Becoming Dr. Ruth is a mesmerizing show about the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer and her life journey. Jane Ridley gives a remarkable performance as she brings to the stage this iconic personality.
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.