Becoming Dr. Ruth Preview

This preview article originally appeared in The Star & Wave newspaper on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

Cape May Stage Celebrates Life and Legacy of Dr. Ruth

By Lynn Martenstein

“Becoming Dr. Ruth,” now at Cape May Stage, definitely packs a punch emotionally.  It also involves a lot of actual packing as the good doctor lovingly wraps and boxes treasures she’s collected over a lifetime throughout the play. Each keepsake prompts her to share a story.

The play is set in New York City in 1997, two months after the death of Dr. Ruth’s husband of 36 years, Fred Westheimer. “I am so glad you are here,” she tells the audience. “It is much better than talking to myself.”

Carolyn Mignini does an excellent job portraying the diminutive powerhouse in this one-woman show. Her life has been one of triumph and tragedy, which she approaches with a joy that is uplifting and infectious. Ultimately, Dr. Ruth’s story is about survival and resilience, not sex.

Karola Siegel was born to Orthodox Jewish parents in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1928. Her parents sent her to Switzerland when she was 10 to protect her from the Nazis. Sadly, she never saw them again. Both died in the war.

A teen-aged Siegel made her way to Palestine after the war, where she was given the Hebrew name of Ruth and found work on a kibbutz. A year later, she moved to Jerusalem and joined the Jewish underground army.

“I was short (4 feet, 7 inches) and fast, so I was used as a messenger because there was less of me to shoot at,” she explains.

Siegel’s long-term goal was to be an educator, however, which she achieved at the age of 42 when Columbia University awarded her a doctorate in Education.  A decade later, she parlayed what had become a thriving sex-therapy practice into media stardom with shows on the radio and, ultimately, on television. At its peak, her TV show drew two million viewers weekly.

Roy Steinberg, Cape May Stage’s Producing Artistic Director, worked with Dr. Ruth briefly on the TV show. Call-in questions from viewers were a popular feature on the program. To ensure callers’ privacy, however, the show used professional actors to pose callers’ questions. One of those actors was Steinberg. Another was his wife, Marlena Lustik, who is also an actor.

Mignini captures the sex therapist’s wit and compassion brilliantly in the play. She also hired a dialect coach when she got the part to help her learn Dr. Ruth’s distinct German-French-Israeli-American accent.

Mignini was drawn to the part immediately when Steinberg approached her about playing the role. “I fell in love with her,” she explained. “What a heroic, beautiful spirit she has. It’s not just the details of what she went through. I have a feeling that this journey of being a healer in the world happened to her but she was born with that spirit and a hunger for life.”

Many people may recognize Mignini from her work on Broadway, television and film. Among her credits are a co-starring role in the original Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with Bette Midler, and numerous appearances on hit TV shows such as “Blue Bloods,” “House of Cards,” “Mad About You” and “Murphy Brown.”    

Aside from the talent, the play gets high marks for its set design. The production team created an imposing 11-foot-high, wraparound bookshelves that not only emphasize Dr. Ruth’s petiteness but also make her trip down memory lane a little more challenging when she has to retrieve items from higher shelves. There is also a large picture window center stage that doubles as an over-sized picture frame displaying photos of key people in Dr. Ruth’s life.      

Playwright Mark St. Germain wrote “Becoming Dr. Ruth.”  It is his second production at Cape May Stage. His  earlier work, performed in 2012,  was “Freud’s last Session.”

“Dr. Ruth triumphed over adversity by celebrating life and having an indomitable sense of humor,” Steinberg said. “Cape May Stage celebrates its 35th anniversary this season with its own “joie de vie” and a sense of humor. Both of us share a mission of repairing the world.”

Because of the mature content of this play, it is not recommended for persons 16 years of age or younger.

“Becoming Dr. Ruth” runs Wednesday to Saturday at 7 p.m. with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call the box office at (609) 770-8311.

Cape May Stage © 2024. All rights reserved.

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