By JACK LYONS
North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT) of Solana Beach, CA., brings gifted, multiple award-winning actor Tovah Feldshuh to their stage to star in playwright Mark St. Germain’s breezy and delightful one-woman stage play Becoming Dr. Ruth in the platform streaming movie format.
Ruth Westheimer, Ph.D., the diminutive (4’ 7”) munchkin-like, giggling, “grandma” image and author of some 40-plus books on human sexuality became an overnight sensation back in 1980 with her open, fresh approach to the subject of sex. “Dr. Ruth,” as she is popularly known, is a licensed sexual therapist and grandmother.
Call-in listeners to her 1980 radio show on station NYNY 103.5 FM in New York City would ask for her advice on personal sexual matters, which she discussed in an open, straightforward, professional medical manner. Listeners heard words they thought they would never hear coming from their radios. The popular show went viral when Dr. Ruth moved one year later from radio to America’s television screens, becoming a worldwide celebrity in the process.
Playwright Mark St. Germain was of the opinion that the life and career of the pixie-like, German-born American citizen and Holocaust survivor would make for a wonderful uplifting stage play. He was absolutely correct, of course. Becoming Dr. Ruth, his stage play, is filled with drama, bravery, courage, wisdom, wit, tragedy and yes, comedy. All of the components necessary for a wonderfully poignant and compelling stage play for all to enjoy in its 2021 streaming movie format.
In 2019, the uninvited pandemic guest of COVID-19 forced brick and mortar venues to switch their productions from live stage-mounted to streaming service in the movie format. NCRT has been a leader in the vanguard of presenting quality entertainment in Southern California both on stage and now in the pandemic era of streaming movie formats. All of their 39th season of productions have been presented in the movie-style format. (Editor’s note: With all COVID restrictions lifted by California Governor Gavin Newsom, effective June 15, 2021, the 40th season should be back to normal.)
The next step and challenge facing David Ellenstein, North Coast Rep Theatre artistic director – who directs Becoming Dr. Ruth – was to cast an actor who has the talent and skills to breathe life into St. Germain’s insightful and entertaining 90-minute play. Not to worry, Ellenstein’s search was a no-brainer.
Actor Tovah Feldshuh is a theatrical force of nature in performance and a six-time Tony and Emmy nominee who, as Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Ms. Feldshuh, not only immerses herself literally into becoming Dr. Ruth (no pun intended) that one forgets she’s also an actor of uncommon talent who happens to specialize in one woman productions. Who can forget her powerful and riveting performance as Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony? Or laugh at her antics in TV’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” series as the yenta-like Naomi Bunch, mother of the show’s lead character Rebecca Bunch that stars Rachel Bloom.
Ms. Feldshuh’s mesmerizing performance as Dr. Ruth gives her audience a peek into the life of a Holocaust survivor from the POV of a young girl to becoming a famous elderly celebrity whose personal philosophy of never giving in to the ups and downs of life; is what makes her performance so compelling to watch.
Director Ellenstein’s many clever directorial touches are so seamless that one is unaware of the movie being directed at all. The rapport between director Edelstein and Ms. Feldshuh is evidence of two pros doing their thing. One marvels at her stamina, range and pace ,while we embrace and laud the vision of director David Edelstein. It’s great stuff.
The technical team that makes the movie magic happen includes Aaron Rumley as director of photography and co-camera operator along with Phil Korth and Chris Williams. Marty Burnett, set designer extraordinaire, transforms the Solana beach stage into Dr. Ruth’s New York City condo with a sweeping view of the Hudson River from her front room window that lends additional authenticity to this, at times, inspiring story about the celebration of life and the human condition.
Costumes are by Elisa Benzoni, while the wig design is by Peter Herman. Properties are by Phil Korth and the camera operators are Phil Korth, Aaron Rumley and Chris Williams. The board operator is Matt Fitzgerald.
Becoming Dr. Ruth streams until July 11, 2021. For ticket information, go online to NorthCoastRep.Org It’s a must-see production!