If you were to predict who might become a nationally famous – OK, world-famous – multiplatform sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer would probably not be your first choice.
Born in Germany in 1928 as Karola Ruth Siegel, the 4’7” Dr. Ruth seems more like the doting Jewish grandmother she is than a woman who used her nationally syndicated radio show, TV shows and 40-some books to help hundreds of thousands out of their sexual pickles. Nonetheless, her life story proves that one need not be tall to become mighty.
Mark St. Germain’s solo show “Becoming Dr. Ruth” has just opened GableStage’s 20th season at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. A touring production of the play featuring its Off-Broadway star visited the Parker Playhouse in 2014, and GableStage performer Anne O’Sullivan has played the role elsewhere, but this is director Joseph Adler’s fresh take on a remarkable woman’s life.
O’Sullivan is taller, slimmer and younger than the real Dr. Ruth, who will celebrate her 90th birthday in June (and who is expected at two GableStage performances this week). The actor’s speaking voice is different from Dr. Ruth’s instantly recognizable one, with its strong German accent, but O’Sullivan’s approximation works.
Over the course of the 95-minute play, set in 1997, Dr. Ruth is busily preparing to move from the three-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights where she raised her children Miriam and Joel, became famous and shared 36 happy years with her third husband, Manfred Westheimer.
Her beloved “Fred” has just passed away, and the kids are worried about their mother’s abrupt decision to leave her longtime home behind. But Dr. Ruth is nothing if not strong-willed, and she’s certainly not too swamped to regale us, her theatergoing visitors, with a life story not nearly as sunny as her demeanor.
The only child of an Orthodox Jewish couple, young Karola escaped the Nazis at age 10 when her mother sent her from Germany to a group home in Switzerland as part of the Kindertransport program. Life there had its share of cruelty as well as young love, but Karola was spared her family’s fate: All perished in the Holocaust.
Emigrating to Palestine at 17, she began using her middle name Ruth, lived on a kibbutz, had sex for the first time and became a sniper in the Zionist paramilitary Haganah. After being severely wounded during the Israeli War of Independence, she emigrated first to Paris, then to New York, where she studied sociology and education, taught at a number of colleges and universities, then turned a 15-minute late-night radio show into a brand.
As she roams around Lyle Baskin’s attractive apartment set, which is not nearly as cluttered as Dr. Ruth says it is, O’Sullivan must do the usual juggling that a solo show requires.
You know the phone will ring repeatedly, as her narrative is interrupted by short chats with the guy she calls her “minister of communications,” with a mover who has a sexual query he’d like to discuss without the other guys around, with her concerned kids and with a stranger who seemingly has ties to Dr. Ruth’s past. As she packs photos and reminisces, larger versions of them are projected onto a screen above the apartment, so we see images of everyone from her lost family to former president Bill Clinton.
Matt Corey’s music and soundscape are vital in deepening the show’s drama and emotional palette. Jeff Quinn’s lighting helps O’Sullivan journey from present to past and back again, and Ellis Tillman’s costume makes the actor look more like the woman she’s portraying. Beth Fath’s props, from the books of an academic to a collection of turtles reflecting a precious memory, speak silently of Dr. Ruth’s life.
Understand, “Becoming Dr. Ruth” is by no stretch of the imagination a great solo show on the order of “The Belle of Amherst,” “I Am My Own Wife,” “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” or any number of other one-person plays a drama lover might cite. St. Germain’s writing and his focus on Dr. Ruth’s amiability soften some of the script’s potential impact.
Nonetheless, O’Sullivan and Adler deliver an engaging portrait of a woman who survived a shattered childhood to find joy in work, family and her bold embrace of sex as her special area of expertise.
‘Becoming Dr. Ruth’ by Mark St. Germain, GableStage in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 24 (additional 2 p.m. matinees Dec. 16 and Dec. 23). Cost:$42-$60 (students $15 Thursday and Sunday evenings); 305-445-1119 or www.gablestage.org.
Grand Opera Moments featuring The Opera Atelier accompanied by the Arts Ballet Theatre and original choreography by Vladimir Issaev...
In these days of Facebook, YouTube, and television on demand, the opera, ballet, and symphony are all struggling to fill concert halls. So the Knight Foundation stepped in to bring classical arts to t..
For someone who placed extraordinary value on silence, and famously incorporated it into his musical compositions, John Cage is making quite a bit of noise. And deservedly so. Because, it would seem a..
Across four nights, traditional and contemporary music from: Germany, Cuba, Spain, Russia, and Argentina will be performed by various classically trained groups, starting with the opening performance ..
The unique two-day festival that highlights Jewish origins in a wide a array of music, from African-American spirituals and jazz to Latin dance, kicks off with a performance "Of Essence & Time/De La E..
A disco dance extravaganza a la Studio 54, with choreography from Rosie Herrera and dancers from the Rosie Herrera Dance Company...
SFCA [isaw + subtropics] hosts a four day 100th anniversary party for the seminal composer with a series of free concerts, installations, and events...
Across four evenings, the traditional and contemporary music of Germany, Cuba, Spain, Russia, and Argentina will be performed by classically trained groups, starting with the opening performance from ..
As one of the most pluralistic cities in the country, Miami is home to diverse enclaves from Haiti, Argentina, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Nicaragua and others. Aptly, Miami is called..
Soulé was a transformative experience whose news needs to be spread like a testament. This one-night only performance of contemporary flamenco, blues and rhythm -- presented by Art Works for Us -- on ..
Davey Williams is rubbing a kitchen whisk across the strings of his black headless electric guitar as Jill Burton speaks in tongues into a microphone sandwiched in between two plastic cups. Parts of t..
The avant-garde describes the foremost part of an army advancing into battle. Davey Williams and Jill Burton are leading a charge of the musical avant-garde into South Florida this weekend and they ar..
The original, real trance music, not just the kind that you zone out to in any hip SoBe disco or downtown club, but the type that makes you feel as if the spirits are moving you, finds its roots in th..
People often imagine new artwork is the product of the solitary artist genius slaving away in lonely studios. The South Florida Symphony’s 20th anniversary program foregrounds a different vis..
At an age when many are winding down their working lives, Ignacio Berroa eagerly anticipates a new stage in his career. It would be understandable if the 64-year-old drummer, recognized a..
We know it’s the holiday season when trees light up, menorah candles start to burn, ubiquitous Christmas carols pipe through drugstores, “The Nutcracker” plays on every stage – and in recent ..
Late last year, on Dec. 20, 2016, Romero Britto and Mark Bryn hosted the Great Artists Series Cocktail Reception at the Britto Fine Art Gallery to celebrate the legendary impresaria, Judy Dru..
Everyone remembers a lost weekend, binge reading a novel whose ending had to wait because the body just gave out. No matter how compelling the story somewhere around the 30th hour the brain s..
Globalization has produced many stories —not all inspiring. But having a Pakistani ensemble become a worldwide sensation by playing Paul Desmond’s immortal “Take Five,” which pianist Da..
When the management of New York’s iconic Apollo Theater approached drummer Gregg Field last year about organizing a concert there in honor of the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth..
They’ve opened a Chanel fashion show in Havana and been featured in Beyoncé’s visual album for “Lemonade.” The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has danced to their music. Their Florida debu..
There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic voc..
2017 fue un buen año para la danza en Miami. El Flamenco Festival nos permitió volver a ver a Jesús Carmona, el Internacional Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) sobrevivió al huracán Irma, Dance..
El Miami City Ballet (MCB) presentó por fin en el Arsht Center la nueva producción de su gran espectáculo navideño, el “Cascanueces” de Tchaikovsky y Balanchine, ahora con diseños origin..
La tradicional temporada de Cascanueces del Miami City Ballet (MCB) tendrá algo nuevo este año. La compañía que dirige Lourdes López ha decidido renovar los diseños de la superproducción que..
El programa que Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) presentó el sábado pasado en su exitoso debut como compañía en residencia del South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC) y a solo ..
Hay pocos artistas que han tenido el impacto en sus disciplinas como el guitarrista Paco De Lucía tuvo en flamenco. En este género, hay un antes y después de De Lucía. Expandió el vocabul..
Dance NOW! Miami, la Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO), Miami Dance Futures y la New World School of the Arts (NWSA) colaboraron el fin de semana pasado para presentar la Daniel Lew..
Esta es una gran noticia para el público amante del ballet en Miami. Tras un paréntesis de diez años en los que solo nos visitó de manera esporádica, la Primera Bailarina mexicana Katia Carra..
Solo hay que aplicar el concepto “seis grados de separación” a uno de los artistas que se han presentado en las Galas de Estrellas del Festival Internacional de Ballet de Miami (IBFM por sus ..
El debut de Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) en noviembre del año pasado fué un acontecimiento artístico y un descubrimiento sumamente agradable. Una sola función en el Miami-Dade Cou..