Two one-person shows at opposite ends of the state, both based on verbatim texts, present opposing takes on the American Dream—one the autobiography of a refugee from the Nazi terror who grabbed the dream, the other reporting from an encampment of refugees betrayed by it.
Dr. Ruth, All the Way was a sold-out hit for Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield this past summer, so a revival is playing through this weekend. Written by BSC’s resident playwright, Mark St. Germain, and based on his conversations with the subject herself, it’s a vehicle for another BSC regular, Debra Jo Rupp, known for her brash, slightly zany women characters. It’s a visit with the diminutive sex therapist whose frank advice, puckish wit and unabashed enthusiasm for physical pleasure made her an ’80s TV star and a household name.
Rupp’s performance nicely captures Dr. Ruth’s effervescent personality and provides plenty of laughs, many of them self-mocking digs at her tiny stature (four foot seven), polyglot accent and squeaky voice (“like a gerbil in heat”). But the bulk of her reminiscences, delivered as she packs up her cluttered Manhattan apartment for a move following the death of her third husband, hark back to the days before she became “Dr. Ruth.” They include her girlhood on the Kindertransport that rescued Jewish children from the Holocaust and her years in nascent Israel as a kibbutznik and Haganah sniper, and are punctuated by somber pauses that briefly still the flow of words and crinkly smile.
What I liked best about the show, actually, was its metatheatricality. Instead of the usual convention in these one-person biographies, pretending to have sudden visitors in one’s home, Dr. Ruth exclaims, “Ah! An audience!” and proceeds to revel in summoning rear projections, sound effects, lighting cues and other stage magic.
Danny Bryck grew up in Amherst, graduating from the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School, and has lately become a rising star of the Boston theater scene. His latest project, No Room for Wishing, is now running at Cambridge’s Central Square Theater. It’s a one-man kaleidoscope of voices and visions from Occupy Boston, rooted in the first-person documentary theater style of Anna Deveare Smith and The Laramie Project and based on hundreds of conversations Bryck had with Dewey Square occupiers last fall. The two-dozen-plus characters he portrays represent a cross-section of protesters angry at the country’s rapacious plutocracy and/or beaten down by it. Activists and anarchists, organizers and onlookers, they include a homeless woman and a young car thief, a paramedic and an Army vet, a CPA-turned-prostitute and an unemployed “recovering lawyer.”
“I wanted this play to serve as a deeper and more meaningful account of Occupy than Americans were getting from the news,” Bryck explains. But he also seeks to avoid giving the play “a singular agenda,” rather offering “a genuine attempt at capturing all the rich complexity and contradiction of these people, this time and this place, without apology. I wanted the play to ask—and not necessarily answer—how do we relate to each other in our society, what do we value, and what happens when we try to actively break down and reinvent those structures, those relationships, and those values? I wanted to pose those questions indirectly, by letting the individuals and the events speak for themselves.”?
Contact Chris Rohmann at StageStruck@crocker.com.