Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
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 walnutstreettheatre.org.