Watching Ruth Westheimer’s journey from Holocaust survivor to Haganah sniper to America’s favorite sex therapist can prompt laughter and tears. That’s how it went last week for three theatergoing friends who attended a preview performance of “Becoming Dr. Ruth” at Theater J.
“I love theater because it makes me laugh. It makes me cry. It’s an opportunity to learn, and it forces me to turn my cell phone off for three-and-a-half hours,” said Lauren Landau after she, Kelsey Fish and Ariella Neckritz had ordered beers at a nearby bistro.
The cost for a ticket — $15. That’s less than a couple pints of Penn Quarter Porter. And that’s the point. Landau, 27, assistant producer of fundraising for NPR, is trying to put together two concepts that are generally considered oxymorons: theater and discount. And in doing so, millennials, whose student loan repayment plans don’t include tickets for “Hamilton” at almost $1,000 a pop, can enjoy an evening of theater.
Last May she created a Facebook group called Oy the World’s a Stage. Members post information about shows they want to see and how to get the best discounts. Usually eight or 10 members turn out for a play, which usually has Jewish characters or themes. “The Pajama Game” drew 18.
Price does matter, Landau said. “Becoming Dr. Ruth” was $55 at the door, she said.
“If it had been $55 I don’t think I would have come,” she said. “And I really enjoyed the show, but for $55, I’m going to go home and eat Ramen.”
Instead of Ramen, Landau and her friends got Dr. Ruth, played by Naomi Jacobson. The one-woman play follows Westheimer, who begins her life as an orphan in Switzerland during the Holocaust, becomes a Haganah sniper in British Mandate Palestine and makes her way to the United States where she becomes the nationally syndicated radio sex therapist.
The play alternates between light and shadow. At one moment, Westheimer is almost killed by a bomb near her Haganah barracks. At another, she comforts a female radio caller whose child had walked in on her and her husband having sex. Most of the time, Westheimer addresses the audience directly about her life.
“You don’t know who you are unless you know where you’ve been,” she says as she opens a childhood diary.
That line was worth the price of admission to the three. Fish, 27, said she could relate.
“My dad was in the Army growing up, so we moved around a lot from country to country, so seeing her move from place to place really resonates with me,” said Fish, an account executive with the public relations firm kglobal.
Neckritz, 23, who does youth violence prevention work at Jewish Women International, drew a parallel between her career and Westheimer’s time as a sex educator at Planned Parenthood.
She said she was moved when Westheimer showed off a dollhouse that she played with as an adult. The dollhouse was a coping mechanism Westheimer used for the trauma of being separated from her parents, who were murdered in the Holocaust.
“People find ways to exert control in their own lives, and I’m glad that she found a way to think about her emotional experiences and find an outlet,” Neckritz said.
Landau organized Oy the World’s a Stage as part of a fellowship with the group Gather DC, which connects Jews in their 20s and 30s.
Fish said she used to be the “I’ll tag along if you’re going” type of theatergoer, but her enthusiasm has grown as the tickets have come into her price range.
“People in their 20s and 30s are not necessarily in the financial position to be paying full prices for theater tickets, and so to have a group that can come together to find discounts and get a group rate for block tickets, or something like that, it’s a way to show people that it’s [theater] affordable and available to them,” she said.
Supply and demand are still in effect, though. For tickets to “Hamilton,” which is now on tour, she and her friends would be willing to pay up to $100.