Dr. Ruth Teaches Lessons Through Humor and Lessons Worth Remembering in David Ellensteins’s Latest Production
By Cori Wilbur
June 13, 2021
“All of my life I have gone to the theater, but tonight–it comes to me!” Dr. Ruth (Tovah Feldshuh) beams at the prospect of a captive audience for a stroll down memory lane. She’ll make you laugh, she’ll make you cry; she’ll force you to reflect, she’ll talk about sex. She’s the unstoppable Dr. Ruth!
Set in Ruth’s apartment of 36 years as she packs up her vast collection of mementos, Becoming Dr. Ruth is a one-woman, feature-length monologue which takes you into the mind of an old lady with a lifetime of character-building experiences and adventures. Every picture, book and piece of paper in David Ellenstein’s production warrants a detailed story as she seamlessly maps us through a special journey.
“A lesson learned with humor is a lesson remembered.” Feldshuh as Dr. Ruth is warm and welcoming. The pathos of this embodiment permits her to liken “water skiing” to “a good orgasm” without the awkwardness of watching a sex scene with your parents. “Now I know what my parents are doing at night; they are wrestling with no clothes!” she recalls of her early moments of sexual awareness as she looks through a special book from the shelf. If this had been a live performance, the audience would have broken out into a series of cackles.
Her short stature leaves plenty of room for her large character. When you have such huge shoes to fill, the pressure is on to find a demonstrative presence talented enough to break through the fourth wall of virtual theater. Once again, North Coast Repertory Theater delivers. On the road to becoming “Dr. Ruth” we get to know Karola Ruth Siegel.
“We won’t remember who we are if we don’t remember who we were!” she points out while recounting her time in Switzerland as one of the Kindertransport children spared from Nazi Germany. This self-aware moment shows the beauty of hoarding memories, an important takeaway from this play. Despite the underlying tragedy of losing her family during the Holocaust, Ruth’s recollection of the past gives her hope for the future–one filled with stints as a Palestinian sniper, three husbands and run ins with attractive figures like Bill Clinton and Paul McCartney.
In Jewish tradition, sex is not a taboo topic. Melding her orthodoxy and zest for education, the Dr. Ruth we know is a pioneer in leading open conversations about sexual responsibility and healthy intimacy. The Dr. Ruth we meet is a survivor, determined to make her parents proud, wherever they are.
Mark St. Germain’s Becoming Dr. Ruth cleverly weaves sex education with a first-hand account of the Jewish experience during Nazi Germany under the umbrella of a tribute to one of pop culture’s most enigmatic and complex characters. As we travel through the good times and the bad, the smile in Feldshuh’s eyes never waver. You get the sense that she’s just happy to be alive. And I was just happy to be a member of her online audience.
Becoming Dr. Ruth is available for streaming now through July 11, 2021.