Curtain Call: MTC’s one-woman show ‘Becoming Dr. Ruth’ ‘warms the heart’ with humor

What a joy to sit in my favorite chair with a hot cup of tea on a cold winter’s day and enjoy the Music Theatre of Connecticut’s (MTC) virtual streaming of the one woman show “Becoming Dr. Ruth” by Mark St. Germain. Streaming is so convenient, especially when it’s a snowy, cold day accented with windchill. MTC, located in Norwalk, warms the heart with this often humorous and sometimes heart piercing account of survival and success.

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” is a good production. Amy Griffin plays the title role with the same vivacity and the kind of giddiness that emotes great passion and happiness as the title character she portrays. It’s not easy to take on the unique accent of the celebrated Jewish sex therapist. Griffin does a good job of it even though at times Griffin’s voice keeps the same heightened decibel for so long it comes close to a drone. However, she nails the body language of Ruth Westheimer, especially when she sits and leans forward as if she wants to connect eye to eye with you. This is a fine-tuned “Westheimer Maneuver” of which there are others mentioned in the play.

Griffin has command of Dr. Ruth’s journey from Germany to Switzerland, to Palestine and Paris. Each location is a story leading to her ultimate role as popular sex therapist. There is some sex talk on her call-in radio show as well as her television show, but that is not the focus of this play.

Griffin’s costume, red blouse and black slacks, seems simple, but it emphasizes Dr. Ruth’s focus on more important things like education. It also proves to be just enough of an outfit for a very colorful and busy set.

Imagine a huge canary yellow wall with interesting photos and frames filling every possible spot. Some of the oval frames with round and/or beveled glass are antique and frame old world photos. Others are simpler and more contemporary such as the square ones framing her daughter and grandsons’ photos. It’s an intentionally busy set that works well, especially with props that Griffin uses with ease and familiarity. The set is dramatically accented with cameos by RJ Romeo.

Deftly directed by Kevin Connors, the theater’s artistic director, the action moves at a good pace in the 90 minute production. Scenic Design by Lindsay Fuori creates a scene for what looks like an impending move. Books are stacked in high piles. Boxes are scattered about and the many items of importance suggest what the play is really about - how Karola Ruth Siegel became known as the celebrated Dr. Ruth. It certainly wasn’t an easy journey. She credits her grandmother with instilling her happy nature. It helped her survive being separated from her family in World War II when her father was taken by the Germans and she was sent to Switzerland. She never saw nor heard from her parents or grandmother again.

This production plays through Feb. 21 and is available in the theater as well as virtually. For tickets and more information contact MTC at 203-454-3883.

Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and a long time member of the American Theatre Critics Association.