The first thing actress
Well, not all of it anyway.
But it's hard not to deal with the subject, especially given the playful title: "Dr. Ruth, All the Way" — and the profile of its subject, Dr,
Only it's cuter, coming from the diminutive grandmother with the helium voice and the upbeat attitude.
In Mark St. Germain's show, which is receiving its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company's second theater in Pittsfield, Mass., the back story of the woman is just as extraordinary as her sex talk. The good doctor is far more that the sum of those private body parts she so often talks about.
At age 9 in 1939, an only child of Orthodox Jews, she was sent from
At 20, she trained as a Haganah sniper in pre-independence Palestine. She was seriously wounded and lost part of her right foot by an exploding shell in 1948.
At 22, she studied in France with famed psychologist Jean Piaget and immigrated to the United States in 1956.
She married three times, raised two children —- and then started her media career in 1980 at the age of 52, becoming the most well-known expert on sex, with her no-nonsense talk given with a dollop of maternal cheer.
"Her story is unbelievable," says Rupp, 61, during an afternoon break on the day of her first preview. "And what she has gone through. You look at this woman with this good humor, who is kind without any mean -spiritedness, and who loves life — it's simply amazing."
Rupp, who is best known for her portrayal of the daffy mother Kitty Forman in TV's
"I don't talk about sex a lot," says the Boxford, Mass.-raised Rupp, who says she came from "New England, practical stock. And who wants to listen to a show about sex for 90 minutes? I don't. I just really don't. But Mark said, 'No, no, Debra Jo. Did you know that she was a sniper in the Israeli Army?' Well, when he said that I just had to do it."
Germain knows his way around the biographical block having written the off-Broadway hit "Freud's Last Session" (about a meeting between psychiatrist and atheist Sigmund Freud and British author and Christian C.S. Lewis), which he developed at the Berkshire theater. Last summer "Best of Enemies," his play about a Klansman and an African-American Civil Rights advocate, premiered at the theater.
Rupp met Westheimer, 84, before rehearsals began at the doctor's Washington Heights apartment that overlooks the
Like Dr. Ruth, Rupp at five-foot-two is a small woman. (Dr. Ruth is four-feet-seven.)
"Dr. Ruth is the only person who has ever said to me, 'You are so tall!'
"She liked my eyes," Rupp says of their first meeting. "As we talked she held my hand, though I'm not a physical person. I'm German, which here is a good thing here. My family was apparently Jewish many generations ago but we were never raised that way."
Asked for other similarities, Rupp says: "We both have high energy. We both lived our life looking up. We do march with purpose."
Westheimer's home is void of any sexual images on display, says Rupp, but the good doctor showed her guests framed shadow-box photos.
"Look at this," Rupp says putting in Westheimer's German-Hebrew-whatever accent. "It was an image of a man and a woman holding hands under a tree and then she flipped it up and it is a 3D image of them having sex. I am not a prude but I just ..."
Rupp says she's been in close phone contact with Westheimer during the show's development. " I think she's excited about this and she wants to be part of this."
The play takes place in 1997 shortly after the death of Westheimer's husband as she begins to pack up her apartment, recounting her life to the audience.
Rupp remembers hearing Dr. Ruth on late night radio when she first started broadcasting her sex-talk show.
"I was shocked when she first started," Rupp says, adding there was something about the heavily accented little woman that she found appealing.
"She says in the show, 'Why did they listen? [referring to her radio audience]. People need to talk about sex and here was this matronly woman who did. I think my accent helped. I think they thought I sounded like Sigmund Freud. I made them laugh. A lesson learned with humor is a lesson remembered'."
Rupp says she is continually amazed at Westheimer's resilient life. ("She thought 'Resilience' would be an apt name for the play.")
"She watched the SS put her father on a truck and she would never see him again. The actress in me wants to sob, but she doesn't. By the time she was 17 she lived in three countries and learned their languages. She lost the top of her right foot when it was blown off. She is unbelievable.' I'm sorry, you look around and children when they're 17 and you go, 'Really? Your life is so horrible. Really'?"
"As she says in the play, 'When I get knocked down I say done and move on. What other choice is there'?"
And for Rupp?
She laughs. "I don't say 'done.' I dwell in it for a while. It say, 'Done, poor-me-poor-me-poor-me, and then move on."
Playing Westheimer has given Rupp an added perspective on her own life.
"It has made me think of my family in a much deeper way. I feel more grounded as a person. I feel that this is important and an important story to tell. For people who feel they have it so bad. I want to say, like Ruth, 'Look at what you can do. Look at what a great spirit can accomplish'!"
DR RUTH, ALL THE WAY runs through July 21 at St. Germain Stage (formerly Stage 2) at the Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield, Mass. Information: 413-236-888 and http://www.barringtonstageco.org
DR. RUTH WESTENHEIMER will be the focus of "Talking Sex with Dr. Ruth" in a question and answer session at the Barrington Stage Company's Main Stage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass. Monday, July 2, at 7 p.m. The event will be moderated by Mark St. Germain, playwright of "Dr. Ruth, All the Way." Tickets are $25 and $35 with special $75 tickets that include a post-show reception with Dr. Ruth. Information: 413-236-8888 and http://www.barringtonstageco.org