Saturday, February 7, 2015

Becoming Dr. Ruth—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland


This true story of Karola Siegal, aka Dr. Ruth, is personified by Wendy Westerwelle, written by Martin St. Germain and directed and designed by Donald Horn (co-founder and Artistic Director of Triangle).  It is playing at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

My memories of Dr. Ruth, when I was a young man, are this very funny, little, Jewish lady on talk shows who talked humorously, but very frankly, about sex.  But my impression now, after seeing this show, is that she is so much more, oh, my goodness, so very much more!  What I may have known about her then, could have filled a thimble.  What I glean about her now, could create a wardrobe!

It is unfortunate that Ms. Westerwelle, the kooky, spiky, white-haired lady, could not have been onstage for the show last night.  Instead she was replaced by this talky, mature lady with a German accent,  chatting about her kids and husbands and such painful memories of childhood.  And, oh yes, about how great having sex was…er, my mistake, making love, she called it, because the really great thing about this act was the fact that Love was involved.  I agree with that.  It’s too bad that so many young people today don’t seem to make that same connection.  Anyway, sadly, no Wendy in sight.

In brief, Ms. Siegal was born in Germany almost 90 years ago.  Her parents were whisk off to concentration camps and, as time passed, was swallowed up by them because of a very evil man called Hitler.  She survived and was part of the kinder-transport, which sent Jewish children off to a few other countries, 300 to Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and many more to Britain (the U.S. didn’t accept any).  She was sent to the Swiss, and she and her mates were treated like servants and made to do all the manual labor.  But a couple of good things came from this, her respect for learning/education and her first love, Walter.

She also met the first of her three husbands in Israel, David.  But, according to her, they were just too young at the time to make it work and he wanted to stay.  Her second, was Dan, a French Jew and they had her first of two children, Miriam., but they too divorced.  In time she immigrated to America and eventually went to school to become a teacher.  She found her calling in teaching sex education and even did a call-in radio, talk-show, answering questions from listeners seeking advice.  She also met her “true love” in Fred and had the second of her two children, Joe.  She has written books, board games and been involved with television to espouse her feelings on sex and love as “…a part of who we are.”

She is now living in New York City in an apartment, teaching at Columbia University and as busy as ever.  It is only hoped that she will get a chance to see this show, as she would be much pleased.  The above is only a thumb-nail sketch of her story.  The true joy of it is, the imparting of her wit and wisdom, as seen through her memories, and presented onstage.  Some memories, as she explains, are simply too painful to talk about.  But memories are also our past and make us who we are today.

Her sharing is like giving us permission to expose ourselves as well.  In her case, as well as millions of others, it is in not forgetting what happened to a race of people over 70 years ago.  It is about never again falling into that pit that is called Intolerance.  It is about Freedom and giving even the smallest voice a way to be heard.  It is about not judging others because of differences in color, creed or culture.  And it is about honoring our Past, truly Living in the Present and preparing the Future for a better Life for all.  It is, in Becoming…the best we can be!

Anne Frank had said in her diary, despite all the horrors she witnessed, that she still believed that people were still basically good at heart.  “Out of the mouth of babes…”  Such courage…such wisdom…and such a waste of a young life.  Anne may not have survived but her words did.  Karola did survive with the same courage and wisdom…and hope.
Westerwelle has so successfully morphed in Dr. Ruth that she not only was becoming her but became her.  Somewhere inside Westerwelle (and Horn, the director) she is chuckling and willing to say bye-bye to Wendy for a spell.  And Horn has been relentless, I’m sure, in getting it right and giving us a true look at what are two icons of our good Earth can impart.
And his set is a wonderland of precious memories of hers in which you can sense her devotion to her Past.  Dr. Ruth may be a tribute to her profession but we have our own guru of talent here in Portland, who is a tribute to her calling as well.  Merged, they are an unbeatable combination.  May they both Live Long and Prosper!

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis send you.

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