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The well-known psychosexual therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer is the subject of a new one-woman play, "Dr. Ruth, All The Way," which opens Wednesday night at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass.
The production's star is Debra Jo Rupp, best known for her role on the hit TV series, "That 70s Show."
When playwright Mark St. Germain proposed his idea for the play to Rupp, she wasn't convinced. St. Germain then asked, "Did you know [Dr. Ruth] was a sniper in the Israeli army?"
"Okay, see, that I can do," Rupp replied. "I'm in."
Westheimer was born in Germany, escaped the Nazis and served as a Jewish Freedom Fighter in Israel.
"I'm one of the few survivors of the Holocaust. I was sent to Switzerland to an orphanage, and the rest of my family did not make it," Westheimer explained. "What became very clear to me because of Debra is that one of the obligations that I have is to make a dent in society, to repair the world, because I was spared and I'm alive, while one million and a half German Jewish children were killed."
Westheimer did make that dent in society — her decades of work have focused on helping people become sexually literate. But when she first started, frank conversation about sex wasn't so common.
"I still get the same questions about sexual satisfaction. However, people are much more explicit," Westheimer explained. "The wonderful thing across this great country — people are more sexually literate. Women have heard the message that I say that a woman has to take the responsibility for her own sexual satisfaction. Even the best lover, even a lover who I train, cannot guess what she needs. We still have plenty of work to do, but there's no question — we are much more sexually literate. We talk so much more about it; we write books about it. I'm not the only one."
Westheimer has become the iconic Dr. Ruth, Rupp shared some of the challenges in portraying her.
"The accent was a nightmare, quite frankly," Rupp said. "Her dialect is not one land — it's several. She's a combo of French, Hebrew, German. It's just a unique thing."
It didn't stop there.
"And then her walk. Because we're both short people, we have a very similar walk. I never knew this, but I'm beginning to realize that short people march. They just march everywhere. That's how they get around," Rupp joked.
That sense of humor won the praise of Westheimer herself.
"In the Talmud it says, 'A lesson taught with humor is a lesson retained.' And she does that superbly well," Westheimer said of Rupp.
The title of the play, "All The Way," actaully made Westheimer blush when she first read it.
"There is still some blushing to be done in the area of sexual endeavor," she giggled. "But I like the title because that's what I talk about!"
"Dr. Ruth, All The Way" opens Wednesday, September 19 at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. and runs through October 17. Tickets are $40-$49.
- Dr. Ruth Westheimer, psychosexual therapist
- Debra Jo Rupp, title role in "Dr. Ruth, All The Way"
This segment aired on September 18, 2012.
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