In 2016, Holli Saperstein won the Star News "Best Actress" award for her performance of Becoming Dr. Ruth. Due to popular demand, she's reprising the role at Thalian Hall in a limited run through April 1.
Steve Vernon directed her in the Panache/Big Dawg collaboration in 2016. This time, Panache Theatre is producing the show and kept Vernon as director.
Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, March 29-31 at 7:30pm and Sunday, April 1 at 3:00pm in Thalian Hall's intimate Stein Theatre. Tickets are available through the Thalian Hall Box Office.
Gina: Holli, you received an award for your performance in this piece.
Holli: I did, shockingly. It was a delight. It was so exciting. I almost passed out. I was given the Star News Award for Best Actress that year.
Gina: In terms of taking on this role, what inspired you to take it on the first time?
Holli: That is a wonderful question. Oh boy, what a story. Steve Vernon had contacted Panache and asked Anthony and I to read the script. He said this is a really good play for Panache to do, because our original mission statement was to do very, very small cast plays. This couldn't be smaller- it's one person. So we read it and we both loved it and we actually shopped that play to a number of actresses that we felt could portray Dr. Ruth. They were fine actresses, they would do a beautiful job, they were short in stature because Dr. Ruth is four foot seven, so there are some limitations on the height of the actress, and people that we just thought would enjoy embracing the role. And every one of them loved the script. They commented at what a beautiful story it was, but they all had some reason that they felt like they could not portray the part. So we shelved it. And then we were all at a cast party and Steve Vernon, again from Big Dawg, he talked me into doing it and Anthony was there and he talked me into doing it.
Gina: So they kinda ganged up on you a little bit?
Holli: Yeah, they did. But in a lovely way.
Gina: I honestly couldn't imagine another person doing it.
Holli: Thank you.
Gina: And I know that everyone feels that way. "Of course Holli's doing Dr. Ruth."
Holli: Thank you. So, I'm short and she's kind of a strawberry blonde, I'm in the red head family and you know, it's funny, Steve said to me, "I always wanted it to be you. I don't know why you were shopping it to anyone else. I can only see it as you." So here it is. I chose to take on the challenge.
Gina: I think that a lot of people would be afraid to take this on, even being asked and saying, "Hey, we want you to do this.”
Holli: Oh, I was.
Gina: You were?
Holli: When I first read it. And I thought, oh my goodness, this is almost two hours of just straight dialogue for me. I mean, there are some sound things that come in, cues and things, but I was pretty frightened and I thought, why did I say yes? But then the more I learned about her and the more I engaged in creating her character and watching her and listening and learning about her life, I thought, wow, this is an honor.
Gina: Why did you decide, Holli, to do it again?
Holli: Well, the crazy thing is, the last time we did it, we sold out the run at the end and there were a number of people who wanted to see it. And Steven, I and Anthony had been approached by many people asking if we would do it again. We decided now was the time. It feels like this is a really good time in world history to bring a great story about the Holocaust, about love, about championing a woman's a options and talking about all sorts of things that I think are very timely right now, especially since there is probably an older population that knows about Dr. Ruth. It's a good story to embrace because it's just really moving.
Gina: If you had to give a kind of a little summary, someone who says to you, "Who's Dr. Ruth and what's this about?"
Holli: I would say Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a pioneering sex therapist for radio and television. She was a little short, matronly- as she describes herself- woman who could talk about sex in a non-threatening way. That she had this wonderful German French Israeli American accent. So people thought she sounded like Sigmund Freud and she would talk about things that people didn't expect to see a grandmotherly kind of woman talk about. I mean everything. And she did it on radio for many years and then over 500 television shows with the Lifetime cable network. So she was a pioneer. But not only that, she's a survivor. She survived the Holocaust. She survived being a single mother in a time that that was not well received and she was pretty much on her own. She survived coming to American teaching herself English from magazines. A pioneer in so many ways and such a wonderful icon and a great role model for even young women today who have no idea who she is.
Gina: When I was a child, I remember that there was something scandalous about Dr. Ruth because she talked about sex.
Holli: Because she talked about sex!
Gina: And so bluntly.
Holli: Yes. Oh, I know. I don't think were listening to it in my house unless we were sneaking listening to it. Yes, absolutely. It was taboo.
Gina: But there's so much more to her.
Holli: There is. She was a sniper in Palestine. A sniper. She went through a horrible explosion that injured her terribly. And she's still so vital. She'll be 90- she's still alive- she'll be 90 this year and I just read an article that she went over and did a study of nomadic women in the deserts in Africa. She's 90 and she's still learning and she talks about that- how important it is to always continue to learn.
Gina: Do you have a favorite quote from Dr. Ruth?
Holli: Wow. Yes. She talks about why she became a sex therapist and she said, "First of all, in Judaism, sex is not a bad thing. It's not a shameful thing. It is a celebration of love. There is a Hebrew phrase, “Tikkun Olam,” it means “repairing the world.” And this is the way I do it."
Gina: That's great. Holli, when you are doing this role- the first time and this time- do you feel like Dr. Ruth even when you're not on stage?
Holli: Yes. In fact, tonight when I was talking to some patrons afterwards, I realized I was slipping into Dr. Ruth with my answers. With my husband I've slipped into Dr. Ruth. I turn to him and he's like, “You're doing Dr. Ruth again." It happens. It's because it becomes such a part of you. You truly become Dr. Ruth when you do something like this because you have to engage not only the voice- and obviously I didn't do the full voice just a second ago, I'll save that for when they come see me- but you have to walk smaller, you have to act smaller because she's much smaller than me. You just have to embody her. Probably my friends and family are kind of "Okay, stop at the Dr. Ruth."
Gina: But you know, it tells me that she is not a painful character to embody. I think sometimes it is painful to embody a character. But for you to do it again tells me that it might be even enriching.
Holli: It is. It's kind of nice to just jump into a hero for you. You and I both know, we've played characters that were like, “Ooh yeah, I don't really like this person very much,” and those you want to leave on the stage and walk away. Not somebody like this because you're like, “Gosh, I wish I could be more like her.” Just to be so brave and to not be afraid to try things and do things that were, as we said, taboo because she realized that it was so important.
It is for mature audiences because anything that you would've seen on Dr. Ruth's television show, you're going to hear it here. There's a little bit of that and certainly there are some words that may be not appropriate for small children.
Transcription Assistance by Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright