Becoming Dr. Ruth

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I want to be like Dr. Ruth — positive, energetic, honest.

Sometimes I worry about my kids — with a father with Parkinson’s Disease, maybe their lives are too hard. Maybe they miss out on too much.

But then I remember there are other great people who’ve managed to survive much worse childhoods and go on to help others and retain a positive attitude. One such American is Dr. Ruth who was born Karola “Ruth” Siegel in Germany, whom I learned a lot about and grew to love as her life story unfolded at Becoming Dr. Ruth, a new Off-Broadway show.

She was a holocaust orphan sent by kindertransport to basically indentured servitude in Switzerland at age 10. Her grandmother’s last words to little Karola — “Stay cheerful!”

Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Mary Beth and Dr. Ruth

I listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio in the ’80s and occasionally caught her Lifetime TV show. She was a charismatic sex therapist. And looking back, I see how important — even life saving — her message of safe sex was. Especially at a time when people did not talk about sex.

drinks at BEA
Fancy drinks at BEA, a new bar. Ask for Jason, a brilliant mixologist. So fun! delish.

When I met Dr. Ruth, I wanted to give her a hug — she seems like a hugger, but she said she has a bad shoulder so we just smiled at each other and chatted.

Before the show at this fantastic new bar, BEA, Dr. Ruth asked the dozen or so bloggers if we had any questions. One guy asked, “How do you have great sex even when you wear a condom?” She said, “First off, good for you, wearing a condom. Too many young people forget that we need to do this.” Go! Dr. Ruth, keep on reminding us about safe sex.

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Dr. Ruth, actor Debra Jo Rupp, playwright Mark St. Germain, and producer Michael Alden at the talk back for “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

At the talk back, Dr. Ruth was asked how she felt seeing herself on stage, she retorted, “Don’t analyze me!” (She apparently does not let her emotional guard down even though she is encouraging and comfortable when others talk freely of their feelings and sexuality. Ironic.)

When asked her motivation for doing the play, Dr. Ruth said she wanted to do this show to let people know, “How important is the early socialization of the child. How important is the love I had for my first 10 years,” from parents and grandmother whom she never saw again. The play chronicles her childhood to her possible move out of a Washington Heights apartment in 1997, a few months after her husband Freddy’s death. In the talk back, Dr. Ruth said that she wanted to create this show as a tribute to her (third) husband Freddy Westheimer.

Dr. Ruth said she was, “happy to participate with non-Jews. To be a witness to — that it (the Holocaust) did happen.” The writer (and apparently, a non-Jew) Mark St. Germain also wrote the charming play, Camping with Henry and Tom. There are heavy and surprising moments in the play but the character of Dr. Ruth is so disarming and funny, the show never sinks you. Rather, it uplifts you.

It’s a one-woman show. The actor, Debra Jo Rupp, the mother from ‘That ’70s show, really carries it — she’s efficient, decisive, loving, and smart.

When pictures of her grandchildren are shown in the play, Dr. Ruth says, “Hitler lost and I won.” And implicit is the message, never forget.

I loved this play and highly recommend it.

I walked out of the theater, inspired to be more cheerful and compassionate. The play also reminded me that, even as we age — Ruth’s 85! — we still have so much to give and we must continue to make the world a more loving place.
 

Disclaimer: Thanks to Becoming Dr. Ruth and Serino/Coyne for the tickets to the Westside Theatre and the mixology at BEA. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

Soul Doctor

soul doctorI love religion, hippies, and men who cry easily. So how can I not recommend this new musical Soul Doctor?

This musical has many themes – it’s a coming-of-age parable and an unlikely friendship between Nina Simone and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The Rabbi became a blockbuster recording artist in the 1960s. Incidentally, a synagogue named for him is in my Upper West Side neighborhood.

The show leaves you on such a great high. I felt we, the audience and actors, should end the evening with a group hug. Or together, we could all sing Hava Nagila or Shalom, My Friend — the only Hebrew songs I know.

I am not Jewish but I still enjoyed the spirit of unconditional love in this show.

But I have a few thoughts of how I might tweak this show before it comes to Broadway. Oh, wait! It’s on Broadway. Here are my thoughts any way.

Schlomo, at the end, comes to value his father’s gentle leadership, but what about his mother? Surely, she must’ve been more than a stereotypical small-minded immigrant to have instilled in Shlomo such a deep commitment to love and kindness and warmth for his fellow human beings.

Another thing — when Schlomo and Nina meet, they compare the sufferings of their tribes. This is never a good conversation. Hello! I’m Irish. I don’t think it’s ever productive to brag about or base our identities on our collective victimhood. Instead, let’s talk about the resilience and the perseverance of our peoples. Let’s sing, dance, write poetry (and blogs) and rise above the inevitable suffering with a daily dose of joy — which, mostly this musical does.

After the show, my husband and I met the talented Amber Iman. She played Shlomo’s bestie Nina Simone. She disarmed us with her wisdom and love!

The singing and acting was lovely. I loved Eric Anderson as Shlomo (and yes, wanted to hug him!). He was like the original Hugging Saint Amma. I am a huge fan of hugging. My husband fell in love with Amber Iman (and probably wanted to hug her). She played Nina Simone, like Shlomo, a person of great talent and great warmth for her fellow human beings.

Their relationship was interesting — it transcended a Hollywood narrative. It is charming and disarming when a man and a woman are great friends and artistic supporters of one another without being romantic partners. Artists, like singers and writers, require a lot of encouraging friends. (Thus, my Life Rule #1 Pile on the People.)

I was inspire20130816-122217.jpgd by Shlomo’s deep commitment to young people and social justice.

The musical is at Circle in the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway (on 50th St. between Broadway and 8th). The last show in that theater was Godspell which my kids loved. Same story, different religion. Give love. Give yourself to others unconditionally.

For more info, check out www.SoulDoctorBroadway.com

Thanks, Culture Mom Media for the tickets to Soul Doctor. All thoughts are my own.

Tomorrow’s the Big Day

I’m going to be performing in front of hundreds of people at the Listen To Your Mother show in NYC, 5 pm, Sunday, 5/12, at Symphony Space on Broadway at 95th.

listenI gotta tell you, I’m very nervous.

One part of me knows I’ll be great.

Another part of me feels like apologizing for my story in the show — it’s a small story about a small moment. It’s nothing big, nothing earth-shattering, nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, I could’ve plumbed the depths of my soul (could I?); instead, I chose a story about taking out the trash with my surly teen.

So I’m inclined to say, “Awww, P’shaw! My story? Me? We’re not that important.”

But wait! I must remember my advice to myself. When I used to do stand up, right before I went on, while nursing a diet coke at the bar, I’d psyche myself up by telling myself these three things:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Have fun
  3. It is important

These three rules seemed to make a positive difference in my performance. Also, I received precious advice from Eddie Brill who told me, way back when: “Never apologize in your stand up act!” That was great advice! It turns out that audiences don’t trust or appreciate apologists!

The truth is that I love the truth. I love hearing truths about motherhood — good, bad, and indifferent truths. Extraordinary and ordinary truths.

I love that I am someone who loves the truth. Because too much of my mothering and my life is spent putting up a good appearance and trying to keep up with the Joneses 🙂

So the fact that I am invited to tell my truth along with a bunch of other truth-tellers, well, it’s just icing on the cake of my life.

Lintault quilt
When I saw this quilt, I thought it was as beautiful as any Michelangelo oil painting. I saw the quilt by Joan Lintault at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.

Do I think the other writers have bigger truths? Maybe. But it’s not a competition. It’s a collaboration. And each square of the quilt makes for a beautiful pattern. Some of fabric is flowery, some plaid, some embroidered, some plain. Each story, each piece, makes up this crazy quilt.

When we tell our stories, we make room for even more truth. And, as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.

This Listen To Your Mother show is not a  show for or about perfect mothers. It is not about pretty mothers like Stepford wives. If you’re looking for that, look in the Mother’s Day aisle for a Hallmark card. (Although I’m pretty sure Hallmarks’s marketing strategy has turned towards a more honest appraisal of motherhood as well.)

In this show we laugh and cry over our real truths. And in these truths, the writers have made art, found freedom, and even, perhaps, woven together a new kind of patchwork quilt, more beautiful together than we could ever have been on our own.

I am honored to bring my piece to the show.

I am just going to show up; have fun; be myself; and remember, it IS important.

This post was inspired by the the daily post prompt: “We each have many types of love …Is there a single idea or definition that runs through all the varieties of ‘love’?”

Thanks to director Amy Wilson, producers Varda Steinhardt and Holly Rosen Fink, and assistant director Shari Simpson for weaving me into the show.

And thanks to the rest of the cast, truth-tellers and artists all: Barbara Patrick, DeBorah “Momma D” Gray, Jaime Fernandez, Kim FordeKizz Robinson, Laura Pruden, Marinka, Nicole Goodwin, Nivea CastroRebecca Land Soodak,Sandy Rustin, Sasha Schreiner, Shari SimpsonSofia QuinteroStacy Morrison, Susan Buttenwieser,Tracy Beckerman, and Virginia Watkins.

Peter and the Starcatcher

When our daughters were little, they always wanted to hear a bedNIGHT story. Of course, they meant a bedTIME story but I dared not correct them. It was one of their charming childhood malapropisms. Chris and I would tell them stories until they entered the magic of their dreams.

(courtesy of Peter and the Starcatcher)
(courtesy of Peter and the Starcatcher)

And if you are like them — and like me and Chris — sometimes still, you want and need a good new bednight story, and so I suggest, little one, that you take yourself to see Peter and the Starcatcher. (Though for some reason I keep calling it Peter and the Dreamcatcher! A penchant for malapropisms may be genetic!)

Whatever you call it — Oh. So. Good.

I was bummed when it closed on Broadway. More than a few of my friends told me that I’d like it. But it’s not always easy for me to get to see everything I want in New York City. Though God knows, I try.

Once in a while, I get a reprieve. While it closed on Broadway in January, it reopened a few blocks away in at New World Stages with much of the same cast and in the same amazing production.

Score.

I don’t know how to summarize the show’s many themes — It is about how to grow up; how children are wiser than adults; how believing in one another is never wrong; how music and comedy make magic; how letting go is part of what you do when you love.

Children can fly (one of my darlings at the swimming hole in the Adirondacks).
Children can fly (one of my darlings at the swimming hole in the Adirondacks).

My favorite recurring theme was taught by the girl Molly. Here is her secret to good leadership: a leader looks out for her tribe. Molly taught this to the boy who became Peter. Molly, played by Nicole Lowrance, is the only girl in the show. She’s so good.

Molly has to be sister, friend, love interest, and, of course, mother to the orphan boys.

But she is not the kind of mother or leader who scolds needlessly, (although she does scold).

She is the kind of mother who finds magic in stories. She’s the kind of mother who soothes scared nerves by suggesting a running race. Molly’s a playful leader.

She knows that to save the day, a leader must:

  • be creative
  • be open-minded
  • be brave
  • be empathetic
  • be funny.

I found a new heroine and her name is Molly! Molly is the starcatcher.

The musical shows how theater is a collaborative art. And there are many times when the antics reminded me of the joy of improv comedy, but the show only looks seat-of-the-pants hilarious. The action is all orchestrated. (Brilliant brilliant directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers! And my old chum Wayne Barker — brilliant, brilliant — did the music! Funny. Funny!)

It’s a physical show where the leads play doors and walls and mermen.

The words are witty and the physical shenanigans are hilarious. At one point I was laughing so hard I was crying. And then at another point, I noticed that Chris was weeping.

I think his tears came from the place of nostalgia for we miss the nights when our darlings were still little enough to climb on our laps and beg for one more bednight story.

Ah well. We can always take them to see this show. And even if you’re not in NYC, you can see it too, as it’s touring this year, starting in August 2013.

The show is at New World Stages, 340 West 50th.

Order tickets at: PeterandtheStarcatcher.com

Related Stories

Girls can be pirates too. Empowering girls.

Sandy’s post about taking her 7-year old son to Peter and the Starcatcher

Diane’s post and a backstage tour!

Thanks to CultureMomMedia.com for the tickets. All thoughts (and memories of bednight stories) are my own. 

Snuggling through Jekyll and Hyde

I took one of my favorite dates, my 16-year old son, to see Jekyll & Hyde. Whenever the show got the tiniest bit ballad-y, I felt his bony head on my shoulder. Awwww, how sweet! Where else can a mother snuggle with her teenage boy except at a Broadway show?

My son’s favorite part  was the moment when Jekyll exploded with emotion at the portrait of himself.  There are projected fireballs which I think probably reminded my son of his favorite date, his Call of Duty Xbox game.

That scene is towards the end of the musical when Jekyll faces his evil incarnation, Hyde. I love stories where psychological aspects of a character or personality are played out. But this musical is not a study in the psychology of multiple personalities, it is a study in singing.

Side note: the young woman in front of us, who we eavesdropped on, was an expert on Jekyll & Hyde productions. (According to the cast whom we met before the show at a swank brunch, these Jekyll & Hyde groupies are called Jekkies (like Trekkies! Funny, no?)) This Jekkie liked the scene better when the actor talked in two voices to himself,  à la Sybil. We liked it this way though. Explosions!

Constantine Mouralis as Dr. Jekyll (See what I mean? He's Fisher Stevens!) Photo courtesy of Jekyll and Hyde.
Constantine Mouralis as Dr. Jekyll (See what I mean? He’s Fisher Stevens!) Photo courtesy of Jekyll and Hyde.

Okay, onto the actors! I noticed early on that Constantine Maroulis reminded me of Fisher Stevens and I couldn’t shake that separated-at-birth association. Hey, lots of women found Fisher Stevens sexy, right? Michelle Pfeiffer, for one. I remember seeing Constantine on American Idol, I thought, Wow! This guy can sing! And emote! And woo you with his passion.

And you will think that too, especially when he sings, “This is the moment!” A show stopper! The dude has it, even if, in his Dr. Jekyll character, he does remind you of Fisher Stevens.

So, onto the women.

If the two aspects of a male are kindly doctor and wicked psychopath, the two aspects of a female, are — yes, you guessed it — virgin and whore.

Deborah Cox, a class act, sings "Bring on the Men." (only slightly uncomfortable to watch with your teenager!)
Deborah Cox, a class act, sings “Bring on the Men.” (only slightly uncomfortable to watch with your teenager!) Photo courtesy of Jekyll & Hyde.

However, the two women playing these two archtypes never let their acting or singing stoop to cliche. They were even better than their male counterparts in the arts of  wooing, emoting, singing! Deborah Cox as the good-hearted whore, Lucy, was OMG! She made a cartoon character complex, human, sympathetic. And  Teal Wicks was not a simpleton virgin, but a smart and sophisticated Victorian.

The supporting actors were all delicious. I could eat them up. I especially loved Jason Wooten and Blair Ross. I was sorry when their wicked, wicked ways had to come to an end. My son especially could not stop talking about how the bishop met his fate.

I think there’s something in this show for you, even if you don’t have a teenager or a crush on Fisher Stevens.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Jekyll and Hyde and the Serino/Coyne group for the tickets and the brunch. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

Related articles Jekyll and Hyde

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Laird Mackintosh, Deborah Cox, and my date at Jekyll & Hyde
Broadway show
Jason Wooten and me at the pre-show brunch.