The author of the previously launched world premieres ("Freud’s Last Session" and "The Best of Enemies"), Mark St. Germain, decided this time around to make things a little harder for himself by writing a one-woman show about Dr. Ruth, the still living and well-known sex therapist. The good news was that he convinced Debra Jo Rupp to play her. The much-anticipated world premiere of "Dr. Ruth, All The Way" at Barrington Stage Company this summer was a huge success. But despite a sold-out run, Germain was hardly about to rest on his laurels, returning to his writing desk to rework the play during its short sabbatical before its return this fall due to popular demand. We sat down with the playwright the week before the reopening of "Dr. Ruth" to find out what has changed, and what has not, since its first go-around.
So, to cut to the chase, what are the main things you did to the show?
The main thing I did was to try and answer the questions people asked when seeing the play. People wanted to know why she became a sex therapist, what were the real reasons. Dr. Ruth is a very private person, but she was very generous. And I kept speaking with her and I came up with angles that weren’t there before. We were really eager to try and cut the show and we’ve been a little less successful at that thus far, but we’re still working on it. Those are the main things.
Where do you get that feedback and how do you sort through what resonates or doesn’t?
Resonates is the most important word. If somebody says something to me, whether it’s a strong criticism or an idea that’s right, then you accept it. You’re crazy to argue. Also when someone says something that is so beside the point, I really don’t pay attention to it. It came from people whose opinion I trusted. I usually don’t read reviews but this time I did read these reviews. I really wanted to address things that were brought up. The reviews were certainly positive, but play was not all there yet.
Did you feel that yourself?
Oh sure. I knew it before we opened the show the first time, but this is a Herculean effort for Debra Jo and so we had to freeze the show. So we really didn’t get a chance to work on it after a certain point. But after watching it a couple of times I came up with a whole set of notes of things I wanted to work on. We had a base of 75 percent and 25 percent we wanted to fix. We didn’t want to reinvent the play.
Did you get any feedback from Dr. Ruth herself?
She really loves it. And her family really loves it. Where she was really helpful was in reading it when it was finished and anything that was factually incorrect she’ll address. But as far as any dramaturgy, no, that’s not her thing. And she knows it.
What was Debra Jo Rupp’s response to the changes? Did she also contribute?
She’s been great. She’s been a real trooper. And yes, she and (director) Julie Boyd and I sat down about a week after we closed and we went through the whole script and it was great to get her feedback because she’s getting the direct audience reaction. And so it was great confirmation of some of the things I knew, and some of the things I didn’t.
Are you still tweaking it now?
Yeah. We’re still tweaking. Mostly now we’re cutting. That’s what we did yesterday afternoon and we’ll see how that works today and see if we can find more.
In your other work, have you gone through a similar process?
Yeah. I think so. It’s kind of a constant revision. When we did Freud up here, every time we closed it and reopened it there were constant changes.
Has this been different or harder as far as revising because it’s a one-person show?
YES! I’ll never do that to an actor again. And I’ll never do it to myself. It’s very difficult.
Because . . . ?
Because every play is about conflict; what do people want? And so you have two people on stage wanting something different. Where would Hamlet be if he didn’t have other people around him? Here all the conflict has to be within Ruth.
Is it hard to leave it alone?
Well when something isn’t right, you just want to fix it. You all do the best work that you can and then it’s up for grabs.
When do you know it’s done?
Just when it feels done, I think.
If you go:
What: Dr. Ruth All the Way
Where: St. Germain Stage, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
When: Through Oct. 7
Tickets: 413-236-9999, barringtonstageco.org