Theatre West is often the host of new plays being given their first exposure to an audience. Spoon River Anthology famously came from Theatre West. The Socialization of Ruthie Shapiro is a new play by Barbara Nell Beery that recently debuted on the stage of this theatre.
Ruthie is a young Jewish girl whose family doesn't practice, though her mother does seem to worry about kosher laws. Ruthie has no friends, and ends up hooking up with a tall transplant from Texas named Loretta. Loretta is a bit of an outcast herself.
Ruthie's brother, at the request of her mother, is coaching Ruthie to become popular by watching the way she dresses and acts and being picky about whom she hangs out with. But Ruthie shows a dash of independence and sincerely develops a love for her new friend. Her brother sees her kiss Loretta on the cheek and tells her that it means she is a lesbian. Ruthie eventually gets scared and drops Loretta as a friend.
The lesson here seems to be that there are social forces at work that make us conform and not follow our true feelings. Nothing new here, but I found it troubling that Ruthie was presented as such a victim. Her brother, overplayed by Nick McDow, is a horror and has one note: screaming. Her mother is also super-passive except to express her desire for Ruthie to be popular. It is also pressing the limits of believability when we discover that Loretta, true to stereotype, is prejudiced against Jews.
What the play does have going for it is Ms. Beery’s command of dialogue and her good sense of humor, which mitigates some of the bathos of the story. Perhaps with a stronger cast and better director the playwright might have learned more about her play and done some rewrites.
The Socialization of Ruthie Shapiro plays at Theatre West until July 11.