In today’s era of the millennial, the play “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” at Theatre on the Square in downtown Indianapolis through Saturday, serves two purposes.
The first is to tell the astonishing life story of the woman who brought “good sex” to the radio and to so many ill-informed people’s lives. The second, for those with little or no memory of the 20th century, is to introduce them to this remarkable woman.
Our guide on this journey of discovery is Diann Ryan, who becomes Dr. Ruth Westheimer so thoroughly that we don’t mind that the projected images of the real woman don’t quite match up. The words of this one-woman show are by Mark St. Germain (no stranger to biography, his “Freud’s Last Session” also was staged recently in Indy), but the life is of Westheimer, born Karola Siegel in Germany between the world wars.
In the setting of her New York apartment in the late 1990s, Ryan-as-Westheimer tells the story of her escape from the Nazis; her emigration to pre-Israel Palestine; her work, marriage and becoming a sniper in the Holy Land; her eventually earning a Ph.D; and the events that led her to becoming a friendly yet outspoken voice on radio and television. All the while, she is facing yet another change in her life.
Ryan is as warm and personable as her character, keeping us wanting to know more as the story unfolds. For those of generations who remember Westheimer talking casually about “szhex” and “orrrgasms” either on the radio or while bantering with late-night TV hosts, this show is an enlightening look at the many facets of this woman and what events forged her unique personality.
For those not as aware of just how recently frank talk about sexual matters was taboo, this show is enlightening in another way — showing how a little firecracker of a middle-aged Jewish housewife helped everyone to feel a little more comfortable with their bodies and sex lives. Likely, Dr. Ruth is part of the reason today’s youth have so much more access to healthy information on sex and its consequences, both its pleasure and its pitfalls, than previous generations.
Make an appointment to see “Dr. Ruth” on the second stage at 627 Mass Ave. Call 317-685-8687 or see tots.org.
Also playing on the TOTS mainstage, is the infamous Three Dollar Bill production, “Schoolhouse Wrong,” in which the comedy troupe performs twisted versions of “Schoolhouse Rock” educational songs. While the source material is from our childhood, the content is very much not for kids. The initial runs of the show sold out nearly every performance at the 2013 and 2014 IndyFringe festivals, so reservations are highly recommended at www.tots.org.