Fort Myers News-Press – Becoming Dr. RuthSeptember 20, 2018
Dr. Ruth visits Florida Rep to see her life onstage. And it’s about a lot more than sex.
Everyone knows Dr. Ruth is a famous TV sex therapist. But Ruth Westheimer went through a lot before she started talking about condoms, masturbation and orgasms.
She survived the Holocaust. She taught in colleges and universities. And she was an ace sniper in the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah (yes, really).
Now her remarkable life is the focus of Florida Rep’s new play, “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” But the way Westheimer sees things, the show’s not really about her at all.
“It’s a tribute to parents,” she says. “Not just mine, but all these other parents who sacrificed by sending their children to safety, not knowing what would happen to them.”
When she was 10 years old, Westheimer’s Orthodox Jewish parents put her on a train in Germany and sent her to Switzerland during the Holocaust. She never saw them again.
Without her parents’ sacrifice, she says, she’d never have become the woman she is today. And that’s what she thinks whenever she watches “Becoming Dr. Ruth.”
“On the one hand, it makes me emotional by saying, ‘Look at what has happened to me!’” she says. “It makes me also rejoice.
“While it makes me sad, it makes me happy at the same time. It’s nice to be Dr. Ruth!”
Westheimer will attend the play’s opening night Friday in Florida Rep’s ArtStage Studio Theatre, and she’ll also take part in a brief talkback with the audience.
The one-woman show stars New York actor Susan Greenhill, who’s portrayed the sex therapist in two previous Florida productions of “Becoming Dr. Ruth” — and has even had dinner with her. Still, Greenhill admits she’s always a little nervous about Westheimer being in the audience.
“I’m still going, ‘Oh my God, I’m acting … and she’s still OUT THERE,’” she says and laughs. “There’s only four rows (in the ArtStage theater). It’ll be like, ‘Excuse me, she’s in my living room!’ Or I’m in HER living room!”
“Becoming Dr. Ruth” opens Florida Rep’s 21st season — its first season without founding artistic director Robert Cacioppo. Interim artistic director Jason Parrish calls the play “a touching and universal story of perseverance and hope.”
“Dr. Ruth’s unbelievable life story is a profile in courage,” he said in a news release about the show. “And it is in capable hands with (director) Chris Clavelli and Susan Greenhill.
“’Becoming Dr. Ruth’ is moving, incredibly funny and a fascinating look at a life well-lived, and (it’s) full of Dr. Ruth’s signature personality and charm.”
Greenhill agrees with that and adds that Westheimer is a wonderful and inspiring person, both in the show and in real life.
“She’s amazing!” she says. “And she’s just so naturally kind and genuine and funny.”
For the show, Greenhill says she’s not trying to do a straight-up impersonation of Westheimer — although she’ll definitely be replicating that famous German accent.
Westheimer has often been spoofed by comedians and in TV comedy sketches, but Greenhill says there’s more to the woman than her accent and famous giggling.
“She’s not just the giggles,” she says. “Her story is a very, very difficult one. And the fact that she is who she is, after going through all this, is amazing.”
And, yes, there will be some sex talk during the show — this is about Dr. Ruth, after all. But Greenhill says it won’t get too raw.
“I don’t think you’re going to be very sexually aroused,” she says and laughs. “Let’s put it this way: It’s not R-rated!”
“Becoming Dr. Ruth” continues through Oct. 21 at Florida Repertory Theatre, 2267 Bay St., downtown Fort Myers.
The play was written by Mark St. Germain, who wrote previous Florida Rep hits “Best of Enemies,” “George Washington’s Teeth” and “Camping with Henry and Tom.”
Tickets are $45-$55. For more information, call 332-4488 or visit floridarep.org.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter), @crunnells1 (Instagram)