Fine Acting, Directing and a Terrific Set Make MTC’s “Becoming Dr. Ruth” Worth Seeing

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Photos bny Alex Mongillo.

By Karen Isaacs

Becoming Dr. Ruth is the current one-person show that MTC is performing both on stage in front of a small audience and live streaming through Sunday, Feb. 21.

The title refers to Dr. Ruth Westheimer who became the celebrity radio sex therapist and guest on hundreds of interview shows. She was the person who uttered the explicit terms for various types of sexual activity and sexual organs.

But, the play by Mark St. Germain, is not focused exclusively on that part of her life. In fact the celebrity part is perhaps less interesting than all that went before it. To say that her life was full of momentous events is an understatement.

During the course of the 90 minute play, she tells us about her life while supposedly packing her Washington Heights, New York apartment to move to a smaller place. Just list these events can overwhelm you. Born in Germany in 1928, she witnessed the beginning of the Nazi era including the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938 and the arrest of her father shortly after. (He died in a camp in 192).

Her mother and grandmother sent her on the kindertransport to an orphanage in Switzerland where she was not much more than a servant, and not even allowed to go to school.

After the war, at 17 she emigrated to what would become Israel and during the war for independence was in the army as a scout and a sniper. She was wounded and recovered though she had to learn to walk again. By 1950 she was in Paris studying and then teaching at the University of Paris. Six years later she came to US and earned a master’s and doctorate degree, the later from Columbia. A job with Planned Parenthood led her to more training as a sex therapist.

Amy Griffin who plays Dr. Ruth manages to the capture the woman without turning into a caricature. She has the look with the help of a wig and the trademark glasses, the voice which sound by sing-song and annoying, and the gestures down pat. But she gives us more than just the superficial. She lets glimpse the woman inside.

Kevin Connors has directed this piece with a sure hand. There’s enough movement around the wide but narrow stage yet he makes it all seem natural. A highlight is the set designed and props by Claudia Stefany that is on point. It looks like an old apartment, covered with mementos of an adventurist life.

But it comes down to Griffin to pull it off. And she does so. I really thought it was Dr. Ruth.

For tickets or streaming access, contact MTC.

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