An hour and 26 minutes into this the amateurish and heavy-handed Becoming Dr. Ruth, we finally get to see legendary sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer (That 70s Show’s Debra Jo Rupp) doling out her trademark advice on Sexually Speaking, the 1980s radio show that propelled her to stardom. Which is not to say she always holds back. ”Love your penis! Will you bring bubble wrap tomorrow?” she tells a mover, who, in the conceit of this Off Broadway one-woman show, will be packing up her books and photos for another apartment that doesn’t hold so many memories. But mostly, Rupp (a dead-ringer who never quite nails the diminutive celebrity’s high-pitched, self-described ”German, French, English, Israeli” accent) gives the audience a history lesson about Dr. Ruth’s admittedly fascinating life.
For those who don’t know, Westheimer was rescued from Nazi-occupied Vienna on the Kindertransport, joined the Israeli paramilitary organization Haganah, and helped mainstream the discussion of sexuality, amassing fans like Bill Clinton and Paul McCartney along the way. In other words, there’s plenty of great material to work with. Unfortunately, playwright Mark St. Germain and director Julianne Boyd don’t allow any of the powerful moments to breathe. When talking about her six dollhouses that she decorates and doesn’t allow her grandchildren to touch, Westheimer says, ”With my dollhouse, I have control that I never had in my world.” Or while explaining why she got into sex therapy, she states, ”It is my obligation because I survived and one and a half million children did not.” As Dr. Ruth herself could tell you, sometimes you don’t need to push so hard. C