Larry Murray from Berkshire on Stage Talks With Dr. Ruth
Today we had a chance to do an exclusive sit down interview with Dr.Ruth Westheimer, the world-renowned psychosexual therapist, the first Berkshire writer granted that privilege. Tomorrow night the play based on her life, Dr.Ruth, All the Way will officially open, and the critics will have their say.
With the playwright Mark St. Germain at her side, she didn’t hesitate to make her opinions known: it’s going to be a hit. “And for your readers, in case they don’t know it yet, I’m telling you it’s going to go off-Broadway. So now they know,” she pronounced with finality. She also insisted I hear her version of how she and the author got together.
“When Mark called me to ask for an appointment, I first thought he had a problem to discuss,” said Westheimer. But St. German wasn’t looking for sexual counseling. “He says he wants to write a play about me and I said: Gott forbid!.” But he didn’t give up. “Later he left me a message on my machine that was so delightful I called him right back and said “Let’s meet.” I look at this guy, I hear what he has to say, and then I tell him:’OK’. And here we are six months later, we have a play.”
In college, many potential writers are encouraged to write about things they know. Yet anyone who has followed St. Germain’s path knows that he does anything but that, instead he writes about things that pique his interest, about things he knows little about, but wants to explore. Such was the case of Freud’s Last Session where Freud and C.S. Lewis come together to discuss faith and athiesm. Also with The Best of Enemies where a Ku Klux Klan leader develops an unlikely friendship with a black social worker.
With Dr. Ruth, everyone knows her role as America’s leading expert and advisor on all matters sexual. She was, in many ways, the voice of the 1980′s sexual revolution. But St.Germain wondered about her earlier life, her childhood under Nazi rule that took away her family, her experience in Israel as a sniper, her struggle to find her way in the new world, earning a college degree and becoming, at 4’7″ a giant American phenomenon.
Which brings us back to writers who write what they know and don’t know. She warms to that question:”I’ll tell you one thing about me, I know what I don’t know. That’s a very important step in life. And I was very delighted that even though Mark did not know much about me, in a short while he now knows it all. Though to tell you the truth, even he doesn’t know everythingabout me.”
Her Personal Life in New York
Dr. Ruth prefers to keep her personal life and family rather private. But she did talk about one aspect that our readers will find interesting. Theatre and the performing arts. It is one of her great passions.
“I’m very fortunate, being in New York, I get to go out like almost every night. I go to a lot of theatre, I go to the Philharmonic, it’s wonderful living in a city (or the Berkshires in the Summer) because you can do all that.
“I used to take the subway, and I am a very good walker, but I can’t anymore, I live near The Cloisters so I have to take a lot of taxis. And I think by now, I have seen Mark’s Freud’s Last Session seven times, and you know, I am going to see it one more time. Every time I learn something new,she enthused.
Dr. Ruth reviews Dr. Ruth
“So how is the play coming along,” I asked.
“Well, I just got back from Israel,” she began, “so yesterday is the first time I saw Dr Ruth, All the Way. I was sitting all the way at the back, so as not to distract anybody. Of course they made sure I had a seat where nobody tall was in front of me.
“I was very happy at what I saw. Especially Debra Jo Rupp (who plays Dr. Ruth). At times I forgot it was her, or that it was me, because she did such a wonderful job.”
As Dr. Ruth continued, it became clear that she intends to break her Freud’s Last Session record. “I’m going to see it again tonight, and tomorrow night, and then the Sunday matinee, and once more on Tuesday. I am doing a Talking Sex discussion on July 2 to benefit the Barrington Stage New Works Initiative. I think what is being done here in Pittsfield and the Berkshires is just wonderful.
“The brilliancy of Mark St. Germain is in realizing that there are boundaries even there, in writing the play. I think he could be a good psychoanalyst himself. He has the look, and the ability to know the questions not to ask. In fact, in the play he quotes Freud as being able to know more about a person by what is not being said, than is being said.
“Now to tell you the truth, I was a little worried yesterday about how similar Debra Jo Rupp would be to me, if you could tell us apart. But amazingly, that evaporated, I was so into the play. At moments I forgot it was her, and not me. Don’t you think that is the best compliment I can give to an actor? She did such a beautiful job. For me it is very interesting because usually I can separate things out.”
That thought led to another one in the same vein: Dr.Ruth tries to keep her family life separate from her work. “My husband passed away fourteen years ago and I usually kept my children and grandchildren away from my professional activities and the sex aspects – I don’t talk sex with them.
“So I am going to be very interested at tomorrow’s opening because my grandchildren are going to be there, along with my daughter, my son-in-law.” It is going to be a family night at the theatre.
Circling back to the future of the play after the Berkshires, she was quick to take up the subject. “You know, they have added some more performances already. That means, of course, that sex sells. (she laughs) and there is an interest in my story.”
Interest in Dr. Ruth, All the Way has translated to ticket sales at the box office, and will now run from June 19 through July 21 at St. Germain Stage (formerly Stage 2) at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield.
During another interview on WAMC, which had been broadcast earlier, Westheimer jokingly suggested that “Anyone who doesn’t go and see the show is going to have a problem with their sex life.”
And that about sums up this wonderful, upbeat, octogenarian, who approaches life with a big smile, and keeps her personal life private. But those of us in the Berkshires will get a glimpse of it when they watch her story play out on stage.
I thanked Dr.Ruth for her time, and said that I felt like I was talking with a nice Jewish grandmother, and whose voice made me think of Freud.
“I like that,” she laughed.
Tickets and Special Events
Interest in Dr. Ruth, All the Way has translated to ticket sales at the box office, and will now run from June 19 through July 21 at St. Germain Stage (formerly Stage 2) at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield. Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Thursday at 3pm (excluding June 21), Saturday at 4pm (no 4pm on June 23 and June 30) and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. Please note Saturday, July 7 evening performance is at 7:30pm. Opening Night: Saturday, June 30 at 8pm. Tickets: $15-$49. Seniors: $28 all matinees.
For tickets call 413-236-8888 or click www.barringtonstageco.org
June 29. Book Signing with Dr. Ruth. Friday at 4pm. Dr. Ruth Westheimer will sign her new book Sexually Speaking: What Every Woman Needs to Know about Sexual Health as well as her witty and touching book Musically Speaking: A Life Through Song. Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 555 Hubbard Avenue, Pittsfield, MA.
July 2. TALKING SEX WITH DR. RUTH. Moderated by playwright Mark St. Germain, Mainstage, 30 Union Street, Pittsfield. Monday at 7pm. Join America’s favorite sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer for a brief talk followed by a Q&A as she answers all your most pressing questions. Buy a VIP ticket and join us for a special post-show Chocolate & Champagne reception with Dr. Ruth. Tickets: $35 and $25; VIP: $75. All proceeds will benefit BSC’s New Works Initiative.
July 3. Post-Show Discussion: DR. RUTH, ALL THE WAY. St. Germain Stage (formerly Stage 2) at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield. Following the Tuesday 7:30pm performance.