by Mark St. Germain
Directed by Stephen Nachamie
New Repertory Theater
Arsenal Center for the Arts
April 27 – May 19, 2019
With Anne O’Sullivan (Dr. Ruth Westheimer)
Ruth Siegel was born into a Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany in 1928 and escaped from the Nazis in the late 1930s via the Kindertransport, which enabled some thousands of children to be placed in safe locations; she went to Switzerland. Her parents perished in the Holocaust.
In the late 1940s she went to Palestine, where, among other things, she was involved in the emerging Israeli independence movement. She married, for the first of three times, got divorced, moved to Paris for awhile, and got married again. Eventually, in the mid-1950s, she moved to New York, where she stayed. After divorcing again, she finally met Fred Westheimer in 1961, married him and took what became his famous last name as her own.
Ruth Westheimer, as Dr. Ruth, as she became known after some time taking and answering calls on New York radio, soared to fame in the early 1970s. Noted for several distinctive traits – her short stature, her thick German accent, and, most significantly, her candor, warmth and humor regarding sensitive sexual issues, Dr. Ruth became a cultural icon.
Coming from an early association with Planned Parenthood, and devoted to sex education, Dr. Ruth acquired an unintentional celebrity, captivating the world with an unexpectedly charming aggregation of traits.
This play tells the story of Ruth Westheimer’s life and career and does a nice job of conveying some of her charm and humor.
There are plenty of funny one-liners throughout. Many of these are quotations from her husband Fred. In one case, she quotes him saying that meeting Ruth on a T-bar was “the worst skiing accident I ever had.” In another case, asked what it was like to be married to a celebrity sex-therapist, Fred responded that “the cobbler’s children often go without shoes.” Hilarious.
Though the subject has its humorous sides, the demands for an actor to carry off this single-woman show must be considerable, especially given that the whole thing must be delivered in Westheimer’s unique German accent. In this case, I thought O’Sullivan’s accent curious but not quite convincing. Nonetheless, she embodies much of Westheimer’s forthright and endearing demeanor.
Informative, engaging with its gentle humor, the play is an interesting tribute to an unexpected American celebrity career built by and around a Holocaust survivor who captivated a wide audience with her earnest gusto, forthright communication.skills and a natural and penetrating sense of humor.