'Becoming Dr. Ruth' kicks off Summer season at the Valley’s oldest theatre
By Chris Curcio
After a pandemic-induced hiatus, Valley live theater is returning. To start things off, The Phoenix Theatre Company is moving back inside their theater complex with “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Featuring two of the finest local professional performers, Debra K. Stevens and Katie McFadzen, the pair have collaborated for over 28 years, primarily at Childsplay, our renowned local theater for young people.
This time, the team is presenting the one-woman show about the well-known sex therapist who became famous in the 1980s with her pioneering radio show, “Sexually Speaking.”
Stevens plays Dr. Ruth Westheimer while McFadzen directs her. The show includes six of the doctor’s pointed but honest sexual advice commentaries taken from her years of radio and television broadcasts. According to Stevens and McFadzen, the show focuses more on what made Westheimer the person she became after a horrible youth in Nazi Germany that led to her American move and the education that transformed into candid sex commentary at a time when the subject was not openly discussed.
How does a performer create an iconic personality? Stevens remembers watching Dr. Ruth on TV but the performer captures the many distinctive traits that Stevens discovered after extensive research that included re-watching Dr. Ruth’s television programs. Such research enables Stevens to bring Dr. Ruth’s unique vocal patterns to her performance. Stevens claims “the doctor hits her conjunctions and uses her dialect to form an amalgamation” that allows Stevens to present a character homage.
“I’m not trying to create a literal characterization because the script allows me to present more about the therapist that most people don’t know," Stevens reveals. "She doesn’t cry and she tries to lack emotion as she relates her life and teachings through stories,” Stevens explained.
McFadzen and Stevens claimed “It’s quite a challenge to keep the character interesting for the hour-and-a-half show.” The pair worked together primarily as performers and Stevens has directed McFadzen before but “Becoming Dr. Ruth” is the first time that McFadzen has directed Stevens. Their relationship has evolved over time as various working situations presented different challenges. They claim different relationships between them happen in each show they work on.
McFadzen must stage the show theatrically to leap over the static bounds that Dr. Ruth’s radio and television performing style established. “Fortunately, it is a very active script with intriguing writing,” McFadzen says.
Both Stevens and McFadzen are excited about performing again before a live audience where byplay between the stage and audiences will again be possible after so many virtual performances during the pandemic. While neither performer is gay, both works extensively with LBGTQ people in the arts.
“Becoming Dr. Ruth” plays at The Phoenix Theatre Company from June 4 to 27 after previews June 2 and 3. For tickets, call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.
Read more of Chris Curcio's work at CurtainUpPhoenix.com.