Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Becoming Dr. Ruth:
Everything You Always Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask

Walnut Street Theatre
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Jane Ridley
Photo by Mark Garvin
The first time we heard Dr. Ruth give an interview on TV, my junior high school friends and I were rolling on the floor with laughter. I am no longer a teenager, but there is still something funny about a pleasant little old lady with an accent saying words like "erection" and "vagina" and even "sex." In Becoming Dr. Ruth Jane Ridley convincingly captures the vivacious charm and disarmingly straightforward attitude that made Dr. Ruth Westheimer a household name. The production has a tangible warmth that makes the evening feel pleasantly like settling in at home with your favorite grandma.

Long before Dr. Ruth became a sex expert, best-selling author, and television star, she was Karola Ruth Siegel, a Jewish girl growing up in early 1930s Germany. The play describes her childhood in Frankfurt and how the kindertransport program brought her to Switzerland where she was saved from the Nazis but forced to grow up without her family in a place where she was always second class. After the war ended, Karola Siegel moved to a kibbutz in Palestine, joined the underground Jewish army as a sharp shooter, and became Ruth Westheimer. Westheimer married, moved to Paris, divorced, married again, moved to New York, divorced again and finally met her great love.

Author Mark St. Germain spins the story of this exceptional life with touching detail and a generous sprinkling of humor that keeps the show from becoming too dark. Many aspects of Dr. Ruth's life are inspiring, but the joy Ridley exudes when she talks about her children and education is truly infectious. The audience is reminded that Westheimer is more than just a great entertainer, she is an educator on a mission to empower women and help couples.

The very intimate space of Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3 is effectively transformed into the famous doctor's apartment by set designer Andrew Thompson for this solo show. A plot line about whether the apartment should be sold feels artificially tacked on to add structure to the show, as do a few other commonly used devices: a phone conversation to move the plot forward or a memory ignited by an object being packed away. Becoming Dr. Ruth does not add anything groundbreaking to the world of biographical one-person shows, but you may leave feeling like you spent some quality time learning from and falling in love with that little girl from Frankfurt.

Becoming Dr. Ruth runs through December 27th, 2015, at The Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit

Dr. Ruth Westheimer: Jane Ridley

Director: Jere Lee Hodgin
Set Design: Andrew Thompson
Lighting Design: Charles S. Reece
Costume Design: Julia Poiesz
Sound And Projection Design: Zachary Beattie-Brown
Stage Manager: Angela Cucco

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