Josie Merkle has performed with Gallery Players intermittently since she was 15 years old, but “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” which opens Sept. 24 at the JCC Roth/Resler Theater, will be a first of many things for Merkle.
The play is unique as it is a one-woman show, featuring Merkle as the only actor. This will also be Merkle’s first time portraying a living person, Ruth Westheimer or “Dr. Ruth”. But what makes this production particularly special is that Merkle will get to meet the woman she is portraying. There will be a special performance on Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. which Westheimer will attend and participate in a question-and-answer session and book-signing after.
“It’s all very daunting, but I love a challenge,” says Merkle. “And there’s no bigger challenge I can think of. I’m looking forward to it.”
For director and Gallery Players veteran Laurie Alexander, “Becoming Dr. Ruth” is an opportunity: “Working on a one-person show really allows you to focus on the acting, extracting the emotions of the story,” says Alexander. “And Josie is a great actor to do that with.”
“Becoming Dr. Ruth” by Mark St. Germain tells the incredible story of Karol Ruth Siegel, the girl who became media personality and sex therapist known as “Dr. Ruth.” Full of humor and honesty, the play recounts her journey from being orphaned in Nazi Germany to becoming a Haganah sniper in Jerusalem to struggling as a single mother in the United States.
Both Merkle and Alexander have found that there’s much more to Dr. Ruth’s story and character than most people know.
“I remember when she first started, but I did not know a lot about her,” says Merkle. “For example, I didn’t know she’s written 36 books or about her history of being an orphan during the holocaust… There’s definitely more to her story than the sex talks.”
They both also remarked on Westheimer’s extraordinary joie de vivre—or joy of living – in spite of losing her family at such a young age and living through incredibly difficult times.
“She doesn’t dwell on her sad memories,” says Alexander. “She doesn’t forget them either; she just puts them away so she can continue living a normal life.”
“I hope that audiences will be ready to laugh and maybe even cry a little bit,” says Merkle. “I hope people come with an open mind and learn more about her.”
Show times include Sept. 24 at 8 p.m., Sept. 25 at 2:30 p.m., Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, $18 for senior citizens, $15 for center members, $13 for senior members and $10 for children ages 17 and younger and students with valid identification.
The special performance with a question and answer session and book-signing with Westheimer after the show is on Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $40 for members and $45 for nonmembers for the entire evening. To purchase tickets or learn more about the show, visit jccgalleryplayers.org or call the box office at 614-231-2731.