New play will find the roots of Dr. Ruth
PITTSFIELD -- Risqué revelations. Taboo topics. Over radio airwaves and in front of television cameras, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer candidly discussed what couples were hesitant to divulge in private, and she changed the way many people approach intercourse in America.
And yet for Barrington Stage Company Artistic Director Ju lianne Boyd, playwright Mark St. Germain and actress Debra Jo Rupp, it is risk, not randiness, that is the centerpiece of St. Germain's new play, "Dr. Ruth, All The Way."
"A turtle has only two choices," Dr. Ruth says in the play. "He can stay in his shell and go nowhere. Or he can stick his neck out and go forward."
Boyd, St. Germain and Rupp spoke about this new work and what it feels like to expose their creative, fleshier parts, as well as the more significant pieces of this diminutive women's gigantic life, before a recent rehearsal at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center.
When it comes to risk, Boyd, St. Germain, and Rupp forge ahead. Boyd, who directs the play, has often stuck out her neck, and the theater company's, on behalf of new work. St. Germain refused to retreat into his shell after Dr. Ruth declined his initial offer to pen the play about her life.
And Rupp, in this, her first one-woman show, kibitzes with the audience in several accents and in three languages, and sings the occasional song. So she can't shroud herself in the bubble wrap strewn about the living room where the play is set.
"Everything is drama, and you have to have two people who believe they are right to make it interesting," St. Germain said. "So, how do you do a one-woman show? There has to be that same conflict within herself, and then she has to make a decision."
Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928, in Frank furt, Germany. And the straight-talker who became one of the most influential voices on the topic of sex in America was a holocaust survivor, sharp shooter, twice divorced, three-times wed, and mother of two children well before she earned the moniker most people know her for.
"It seemed like a very dramatic story," Boyd said. "I wasn't interested in doing something just on a sexpert, although that certainly was titillating when you learned about all the rest."
"Dr. Ruth, All the Way," is the third St. Germain work com missioned by Barrington Stage Company and the first production of BSC's New Works Initiative, in which playwrights and musical theater writing teams are commissioned to create work that the company will eventually produce. The play will premiere Tuesday at the company's former "Stage 2" space, which was recently re-named in St. Germain's honor.
Audiences will meet Dr. Ruth in her living room, on a set that could easily be mistaken for a pack-and-ship shop except for the tiny German woman plopped in the center of it all. It is June 1997, just after the death of her third husband, Fred Westheimer, the man she called "the love of her life."
As she packs their belongings, she chats up the audience about her life, including the pain and turmoil she faced and overcame with strength and humor, to become Dr. Ruth.
"Can you see my face right now? Can you see that I am not even present in the room I've got so much stuff in my head," Rupp said with a laugh.
Rupp was unabashedly excited, and a tinge nervous, about the roller coaster ride she feels she has strapped herself into for this part.
"It could be something no one has seen before. I want people to get on board with me and take that ride," she said.
In an email exchange, Dr. Ruth herself explained why she initially rejected the idea of a play being written about her.
"Trusting the story of your life into someone's hands is always risky," she said. "But the manner in which Mark accepted my turn-down helped me to see that he was a true gentleman and would never write a piece that would put me in a bad light, and so I decided I should meet him."
And since she gave the play her blessing, which St. Germain refused to write without it, he, Boyd and Rupp have continued to meet with her to discuss the work-in-progress.
"We are very similar, I think," Rupp said. "There is a dryness. When she is really funny, she takes delight in it. It was important to her. It was obviously important when she was performing, but in real life too she has it."
By Carrie Saldo
What: ‘Dr. Ruth, All the Way.'
Where: Barrington Stage Company Stage II, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
When: Shows begin Tuesday, with the press opening June 30, and run through July 21.
Admission: $30 to $45
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.