Last week, I was page-deep in EL James’ “50 Shades of Grey” when I was invited to attend the press night for Barrington Stage Company’s world premiere of Mark St. Germain’s “Dr. Ruth, All the Way.” Hmm. Since it was obvious by my choice of reading that I was having sex on the brain that week, I decided why not talk sex with the ultimate 4-foot-5-inch sex guru herself, Dr. Ruth Weistheimer.
While I wasn’t actually going to see the Dr. Ruth, I thought it would be interesting to watch Debra Jo Rupp, of “That 70s Show” fame, play her on the, aptly named, St. Germain Stage. So last Saturday night I dragged my sister, eight months pregnant, out for a Girls Night at the theater.
When we arrived, I was handed my press packet from the veritable Charlie Seidenberg who, when I informed him I was ready to Talk Sex for the evening, told me the “4-foot-5 dynamo” who he’d been escorting around all week could offer me some suggestions in the lobby. My sister and I chuckled and headed off to our seats.
“Is she really here?” my sister asked.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Let me see.” I wandered out to the lobby to take a peek. Not seeing anyone familiar, I headed back into the theater with nothing exciting to report.
Shortly after the crowd began to filter in, as I was taking a few photos, I felt a poke on my arm.
“Is that her?” my sister asked, pointing to someone in the row in front of us.
I turned to my right and said, “Holy s*%t!” There she was. Dr. Ruth had come to see the play about her life, and she was sitting only one row away! Even better, she was surrounded by her family — her children, grandchildren, in-laws — some of whom were seated directly in front of me. I would be able to watch their reactions to their beloved mother/grandmother unfold right before my eyes. It was a blogger’s dream (thank you, Charlie).
As the play began, Rupp immediately had the audience laughing out loud as she shuffled around her Washington Heights apartment preparing for an upcoming move, talking to her “Minister of Communications” Pierre Lehu, turning down offers of television, lectures and an apartment makeover by Oprah’s favorite decorator, Nate Berkus. But the laughs quickly subsided, as a joking Dr. Ruth turns melancholy over the recent death of her husband and her need to move and start anew.
I found that much of the play was like this. One minute my sister and I would be giggling about Weistheimer’s impromptu phone call with Mike the Mover about the size of his penis, and then moments later we could feeling the tears pooling in the corners of our eyes as Rupp pulled at our heartstrings in a chilling recount of how she watched her father get taken away to a World War II work camp, and how later as a 10-year-old little girl, had to summon the courage not to cry as her mother and grandmother put her on the Kinder Transport to Switzerland.
Weistheimer’s life reads like a good piece of fiction, only the stories of her becoming a sharp shooter in the Haganah, the Jewish Underground Army, landing in an Israeli hospital after taking shrapnel during a bomb explosion in the youth hostel she lived in in Jeruselum, falling in love for the first time, living in Paris, divorce, being a single mother in New York, and her long journey to becoming the Dr. Ruth we all know today, are all unbelievably true.
I wish I could comment more on Rupp’s performance, but I was continually distracted by Weistheimer’s reactions (as well as those of her family members) in front of me. At one moment in the show, Rupp, as Dr. Ruth, showed the audience a bullseye target from a shooting range. Rupp relayed an anecdote about this was how her grandson, Ari, learned about his matronly grandmother’s stint as a sharpshooter. The real Weistheimer glanced over at Ari, who was seated directly in front of me, and they exchanged a smile. When Rupp, as Ruth, spoke of her grandchildren, Weistheimer affectionately squeezed the hand of her youngest grandchild, Benjamin.
At one point the stage Ruth says, “I had gone from being a professor to a celebrity overnight. My son Joel said he knew it the evening he walked on campus and heard “Sexually Speaking” coming from the open windows of every dorm room. They were having “Dr. Ruth” parties and listening to me on the radio.” At that moment, the real Dr. Ruth gave Joel, who was sitting in front of her, a quick tap with the back of her hand, they shared a smile and then Joel turned to the women next to him (his wife, maybe?) saying, “That’s true. That really happened.”
One of my favorite interactions came at intermission, in the ladies room, of all places. While standing in line waiting for a stall to open (at that point I was wishing I was pregnant like my sister, as a lovely woman offered up her place in line to her and I REALLY had to go), I struck up a conversation with Weistheimer’s two pre-teen-ish granddaughters Michal and Leora. I asked how they liked the play and one replied that she liked it but that “it was weird seeing everything on stage.”
“Did you know a lot of the stories being told?” I asked.
“Yeah, I did,” she said, and then turned to her cousin next to her and asked, “Did you?”
“Most of them,” she said.
There was one factual error they had found. At one point in the play Dr. Ruth’s daughter Miriam phones:
“Hello? Miriam! How are you? The children? … Good . .. Your Joel? (Covers the phone and says to audience) Miriam’s husband is a Joel, too. Six foot two and a terrific hugger.”
Joel’s daughter informed me that her father, in fact, was not six foot two. “How tall is he?” her cousin asked.
“I think about six feet,” she said with a very serious expression on her face. (Mr. St. Germain, you might want to fix that) *smile*
“Well, enjoy the rest of your night,” I said as I entered the stall, patting myself on the back for garnering information for my blog that no other press person at the show had. I only wish I had more, but I didn’t want to invade their privacy (or mine) by shooting questions through the stall door.
The show ran approximately two hours with one intermission, and my sister and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t know if we would have enjoyed it quite as much had the Weistheimer family not been feeding our curiosity right in front of us, but Rupp does a stellar job as Dr. Ruth in this truly remarkable and inspiring tale of Karola Siegel’s (aka Dr. Ruth’s) life.
“Dr. Ruth, All the Way” plays at Barrington Stage Company’s Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, located at 36 Linden St., Pittsfield through July 21. For more information go online to barringtonstageco.org.