By: Sandi Durell
The little lady (4 ft. 7 in.) was always a powerball, albeit her flight from the Nazis in Germany to Switzerland at age 10 on the kindertransport could not have been more frightening, leaving her mother and grandmother behind, her father having already been taken away to a work camp. Instead of being taken care of by the Swiss, the children were treated more like servants.
Petite Karola Ruth Siegel – a fighter, a survivor stands before you as Debra Jo Rupp, best known for her 8 year run as Kitty Forman in “That 70s Show,” embracing the role in a flower shirt and slacks on the stage at the Westside Theatre.
It is 1997, and in 100 minutes, while packing up her apartment in Washington Heights after the death of her husband Fred, you have a birds-eye view into her tragic beginnings, her marriages, her daughter Miriam whom she raised as a single parent, and the ascent of her career as a sex therapist and educator. As she removes family photos from the wall, and the phone keeps ringing, each moment triggers another vision into memories – life, family, patients, career – humorous and sad – the information unfolding delightfully and bittersweet from “Dr. Ruth” in flashbacks and mostly with a twinkle in her eye.
After reliving the horrors of growing up as a child without family and her stint as a sharpshooter in the Haganah in Israel, the counter balance is the sequence showing her on radio and the marvelously funny sexual advice she would give callers, catapulting her into a virtual star. Becoming Dr. Ruth is filled with quips and many laugh lines.
The play written by Mark St. Germain (Freud’s Last Session), has some slow moments, but is a good overview of the fascinating life of this diminutive lady who had and still has a lot to say. Directed by Julianne Boyd, Ms. Rupp captures the essence of Dr. Ruth with a German/Israeli/French/American accent that is charming as she brings Dr. Ruth to life.
The set design, by Brian Prather, of a comfortable living room strew with boxes, with picture window onto the Hudson River also serves for projections of real life photos, by Daniel Brodie, the lighting by Scott Pinkney.
At the Westside Theater Upstairs, 407 West 43rd Street, Clinton, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com. Through Jan. 12.