My Name Is Ruth
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 17, 2010
I cannot recall when I've seen a play more charming than My Name is Ruth. It's an adaptation of the biblical Book of Ruth, set in a virtuous and clean post-war Middle America. The story is simple and told in very clean, accessible language. At the top of the show Ruth's husband promptly dies in World War II. Ruth decides to stick with her aging mother-in-law when she wants to move back to her home town. She struggles to find a job in her new town because the men have returned from the war and all the Rosie the Riveters have been forced back into the house. Ruth is a strong, determined woman and she has no intention of giving up. Finally she meets Boaz, a shy, socially awkward department store owner who hires her on and takes a shine to her. As it turns out, her mother-in-law used to be pretty loaded and has a big estate. When a relative rolls into town and wants to snatch up the estate and throw the mother-in-law into an old folks' home, Ruth and Boaz step in to help her.
It took only few minutes for me to become immersed in the world of the production. The costumes, the music, the set, the script all transported me to 1950s America. It's a spotless, Beaver Cleaver sort of America where people say things like "Golly-gee willikers."
Playwright-director Stephen W. Baldwin's script is delightful. His language and plot are simple. He doesn't bother with fluff or contrived twists and turns. The story is basically a stream of positive, uplifting moments interrupted briefly by a tiny conflict. Baldwin's direction perfectly highlights the charm of his script. I loved his staging. He sets many characters off stage and he has some speeches delivered out over the audience. I think a large part of what makes this work is the proscenium stage at the Connelly Theater. It was like being in an old high school theater.
Barb Scott and Pamela Querin handle the costumes and set design, respectively, and their work here makes this production so charming. Nothing is overdone. In fact, everything in this production is a little understated and I really liked that. There is so much left to the audience's imagination.
The cast, Magdalyn Donnelly and Jeffrey Querin, are completely enchanting. Donnelly plays Ruth while Querin plays Boaz plus about a dozen other roles. Donnelly is hopelessly lovable with her cute Minnesota accent and her ability of blush on cue. Querin plays Boaz so shy and awkward that it's hard to say who the more endearing character is. Querin also plays the "villain" and at one point he does a great job acting with himself in a scene that finds both characters in the same room. The acting in this show is just so perfectly aligned with all the other production aspects. I was really taken with their performances.
I didn't think people still did productions like My Name is Ruth. I have admit at first I was little skeptical. I've grown so used to jaded, curse-ridden scripts or dark, experimental productions that try to shock me into submission. But honestly it didn't take very long for my hard shell melt away so this show could shine on me. I'm glad I let it in.