Susie Wall Takes On An Icon In “Becoming Dr. Ruth” At New Jewish

Susie Wall as Dr. Ruth holds a pivotal object to her survival in NJT's "Becoming Dr. Ruth." Photo: John Lamb

Susie Wall as Dr. Ruth holds a pivotal object to her survival in NJT’s “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Photo: John Lamb

Bringing sex out of the shadows and into everyday conversation is the legacy that Dr. Ruth Westheimer will always be remembered for. But her early life was not easy and her struggles before notoriety make for an interesting one-woman show and New Jewish Theatre brings her to us in the guise of the remarkable Susie Wall. “Stumbling” on the audience who suddenly appears in her Washington Heights apartment in 1997, she begins to tell her story as she packs up her belongings for a move across town. Her life is so fascinating and Susie Wall so compelling that you sit back for a 90-minute peek- filled with humor and pathos- into how she became who she is in “Becoming Dr. Ruth.”

Susie Wall's Dr. Ruth holds one of the many, many books she's written on the subject over the years in "Becoming Dr. Ruth" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Susie Wall’s Dr. Ruth holds one of the many, many books she’s written on the subject over the years in “Becoming Dr. Ruth” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Born Karola Ruth Seigel in Frankfort, Germany in 1928, her life was ripped apart by the Kristallnacht perpetrated by the Nazis and was soon shipped off by the Kindertransport program to an orphanage in Switzerland. She never saw her parents again and she presumed they were killed in Auschwitz. Through studies and teaching all over the world and marriages to three different husbands, she became the host of a 15-minute radio program in New York airing after midnight. It caught on and she soon became a full-fledged star due to her outspoken opinions on sex and her belief that sex should be discussed openly and without shame.

Another object to pack brings back stories from her past for Dr. Ruth as portrayed by Susie Wall at NJT's "Becoming Dr. Ruth." Photo: John Lamb

Another object to pack brings back stories from her past for Dr. Ruth as portrayed by Susie Wall at NJT’s “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Photo: John Lamb

Susie Wall captures the spirit and unabashed frankness of Dr. Ruth as she packs, talks about her life, her three husbands and talks to people on the phone including the mover who is expected the next day who asks if Dr. Ruth can talk to his grandmother. That conversation becomes a revelation for them both. All the while, she drops bon mots of advice and philosophy as she discovers triggers in items she is packing that take her from subject to subject as she shares many moments from her life.

Director Jerry McAdams keeps the flow moving and, from that opening moment when she “discovers” us sitting and viewing her living room, the audience feels like a welcome guest. The elaborate set designed by Cristie Johnston is remarkable. I’m sure many folks thought as I and another reviewer did as we entered the theatre- “I could live here!” The clever use of an upstage picture window for projections designed by Michael B. Perkins is a wonderful touch that really opens up the stories that she tells. Kimberly Klearman’s lighting design adds to the realistic setting and Teresa Doggett’s costume for Dr. Ruth is impeccable.

Dr. Ruth- portrayed by Susie Wall- talks sex on one of her radio broadcasts in "Becoming Dr. Ruth" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Dr. Ruth- portrayed by Susie Wall- talks sex on one of her radio broadcasts in “Becoming Dr. Ruth” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Dr. Ruth Westheimer is still alive today and working at her practice. Although her days of appearances on the David Letterman show and other venues including her own radio and television show are over, she still remains an icon of an era. Playwright Mark St. Germain, who wrote the powerful “Freud’s Last Session” that played the Repertory Theatre Studio last year, has captured the soul of Dr. Ruth and has brought a fascinating and difficult life to the stage. We were all so focused on the small framed lady speaking in a strong accent about taboo subjects that we never really knew what brought her to the point of celebrity. It’s a wonderful story.

Susie Wall brings “Becoming Dr. Ruth” to imaginative life through December 21st at the New Jewish Theatre. Call them at 314-442-3283 or contact them at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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