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Theater Review: “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” plays through February 3, 2019 at the Broadway Theater, 340 East Broadway in Vista.
Photo credit:
Robin LaValley as Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Say “Dr. Ruth” and anybody who was listening to the radio or watching TV in the 1980s will know exactly whom you’re talking about.

She’s Dr. Ruth Westheimer, pint-sized sex therapist extraordinaire, whose face, accent and sense of humor were daily fixtures on TV and radio for years.

If the name’s not familiar – or even if it is – this show’s for you. It’s Mark St. Germain’s one-act solo show “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” brilliantly acted by Robin LaValley and playing through Feb. 3 at the Broadway Theater in Vista

.A Holocaust survivor sent as a child to Switzerland by her parents after Kristallnacht, this daughter of Orthodox Jews studied, worked, married and eventually migrated to New York, where she became famous as an expert on human sexuality and where, at age 90, she lives to this day.

But it was quite a voyage for the 10-year-old, who never saw her parents again. In Switzerland, she was trained to be a maid. While there, she became a Zionist, and at the end of the war, she left Switzerland for Israel. 

In Jerusalem she was allowed to enroll at the Teacher’s Seminary, where she began studies to become a kindergarten teacher, getting her teaching certificate in 1950. She also became involved with Haganah, a radical group fighting for Israeli statehood and independence from the British. Here, the pint-sized (4’7”) freedom fighter was trained as a sniper – which she was surprisingly good at – but was wounded in a bomb explosion in which she lost the top part of one foot.

Then she married a soldier and they moved to Paris, where Ruth studied psychology at the Sorbonne and her husband studied medicine.

The marriage didn’t last, but Ruth stayed in Paris until 1956, when she emigrated to New York City, settling in Manhattan. Ever-resourceful, she got two graduate degrees (one on a scholarship) and went to work for Planned Parenthood, where she found herself increasingly involved in conversations about sex.

Her break came in 1980, when she gave a lecture to New York broadcasters about the need for sex education. The right person heard her and offered Ruth $25 a week for a weekly 15-minute broadcast.

The rest is history. Dr. Ruth (whose voice was once described as “a cross between Henry Kissinger and Minnie Mouse”) quickly became a household name applauded for her commonsense responses to those ticklish questions about sex. She’s written some 40 books, including “Sex For Dummies.”

Germain’s script showcases Westheimer’s style, approach, and irrepressible attitude. The text offers challenges with sudden time shifts, but actress Robin LaValley minimizes those while giving us a fine portrait of the person behind the heavy German accent, which LaValley has mastered.

Kudos to the director for the judicious use of callers’ voices and the cluttered but friendly-looking set (Dr. Ruth is supposed to be packing for a move).

Dr. Ruth is an original, and a delightful one at that. Who else do you know who compares sex to skiing?

The details

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” plays through February 3, 2019 at the Broadway Theater, 340 East Broadway in Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.