“Becoming Dr. Ruth”
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Music Theatre of Connecticut is currently presenting a wonderful and deeply moving production of Mark St. Germain’s play, “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Focusing on the life of internationally famous sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, one might think that this show would simply be a cute comedy. It is much more than that. This play is a richly detailed and touching character study of how Dr. Ruth rose to become a worldwide known doctor and celebrity. From surviving the Holocaust to making her life in America as a single mother, “Becoming Dr. Ruth” reveals all the background information of this woman’s life and it does so with a mixture of humor and sorrow.
Of course, this being a one-person show, without a strong actress to take on the title role, the production would simply collapse. Music Theatre of Connecticut is, thus, very lucky to have found Amy Griffin to fill the shoes of Dr. Ruth. This actress is simply brilliant, by turns funny and heartbreaking, as she slowly draws the audience in to the life of this remarkable woman. On an attractive and expansive set (excellently designed by Lindsay Fuori) of the New York apartment of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the back wall of the stage is completely filled with pictures. Throughout the show, Griffin will take various photos down from the wall to show the audience and it is a fair guess that every picture tells a million stories. With sensitive and finely-tuned direction by Kevin Connors, “Becoming Dr. Ruth” is a significant and profoundly affecting theatrical experience.
This is not to say, though, that there aren’t laughs in “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” for this play can be quite funny. But the show is most effective in revealing just how resilient Dr. Ruth Westheimer was throughout her entire life. Indeed, more than once, she refers to herself as a “survivor.” From leaving her parents and grandmother to flee the Nazis in the Kindertransport, to joining the Haganah in Jerusalem as a sniper, “Becoming Dr. Ruth” covers a lot of territory in a ninety-minute show. But one never feels hit over the head by this play or that all these details become too much to absorb. Instead, one hangs on Dr. Ruth’s every word, for every moment in this play is to be treasured.
The conceit of this show, when it begins, is that Dr. Ruth has decided to move from her New York apartment to another apartment across town, and there are numerous phone calls from her children and friends, as well as the movers who are to arrive the next day. Amy Griffin talks directly to the audience throughout the show, as if Dr. Ruth has invited us all in for an intimate discussion. One would hate to give too much away, but some of the most moving moments in the show concern the many dollhouses Dr. Ruth has in her apartment, as well as her remembrances of her family, whom she had to leave so early in life. What ultimately makes this show extra special, though, is that Griffin is so good that she manages to get to the point where she and the person she is portraying become one. Indeed, this actress gives one of the finest performances I have ever seen.
In addition to the careful guidance of director Kevin Connors, “Becoming Dr. Ruth” is aided by the ideal costume design (by Diane Vanderkroef) and the particularly effective lighting by RJ Romeo. The perfect sound design (by Will Atkin) makes even a viewer who is live-streaming this show at home hear every word as clear as a bell. This is extra important, for one would hate to miss anything in a production as superb and beautifully calibrated as this one. By all means, see “Becoming Dr. Ruth” at Music Theatre of Connecticut, for, as the show goes along, you will want to know more and more about this exceptional woman’s life, filled with laughter and tears, and Amy Griffin manages to envelope the entire audience with warmth and humanity.
“Becoming Dr. Ruth” runs through February 21, 2021 at Music Theatre of Connecticut at 509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, CT. For tickets, please visit www.musictheatreofct.com or call the box office at 203-454-3883. In addition to selling tickets to come to see the show at the theatre, one can also buy tickets to watch the show live-streamed at home. As someone who did see “Becoming Dr. Ruth” through a live-stream, I can attest that it really is just as satisfying as seeing the show in the actual theatre.
Photo: Amy Griffin
Photo by Alex Mongillo