Ruth, Meet Ruthie

In Play Reviews on March 21, 2013 at 12:34 pm

BJU’s performance hall has long been the venue for exploring new theatrical territory. Ruthie, a new play written by established playwright David Wright and directed by Anna Brown, is no exception to the rule. Ruthie is a retelling of the biblical story of Ruth, moving the story from its original setting in ancient Israel to 1940’s North Carolina.  The play answers questions the biblical account leaves unexplored. How hard was it for Ruth to move on after her husband’s death? Why did Ruth stay with Naomi when she could have gone home? David Wright takes these questions and weaves a clever and heartwarming retelling while preserving the original story’s themes of love and redemption.


The play follows a thematic progression from death to life. As in the biblical account, we first meet Ruthie McInnes as a recently widowed young woman at the end of a long journey from her home. In Ruthie’s case, home is Charleston South Carolina. She comes from a family with “old money,” and married Naomi’s navy pilot son against her family’s will. Ruthie’s husband, Martin, died in the war, shattering Ruthie’s world. She decides to live with Naomi McInnes, shedding her life as an ignored daughter of a wealthy family in exchange for a new life. She finds a job working at Kingsford Laundry, a business run by a (very) distant cousin of Naomi, Julius Kingsford. There she meets one of his workers, a man named Beau Stroud, who will be the man to help her recover from the tragedy of her loss and learn to live fully again.


The set is sparse, but functional and interesting. The backdrop is the wooden frame of a house, establishing the home as the center of the love story. Immediately before the backdrop is a raised platform with a worn couch, tables, and other accessories that form a shabby but comfortable living room. A shop counter downstage represents the cleaner’s. The play’s color palette is made up of browns and tans, lending an air of homely melancholy to the set. The cast’s costumes start in dull shades and progress to brighter colors and more uninhibited cuts as the characters progress from grief to joy. For example, when we first see Ruthie, she is wearing a grey tweed suit, but at the end she is in a free-flowing yellow dress.


The modernized approach puts a different spin on the story than BJU audiences might be used to. Ruthie’s relationship with the “closer relative” of the Bible story is more representative than literal. Junior Kingsford fills this role, but instead of being the kinsman who will not take the responsibility of marrying Ruth, he is a wayward youth who won’t take responsibility for his own life. Beau, the play’s Boaz, is a positive foil to Junior’s character. While Junior is given responsibility he does not want and is not prepared for, Beau is offered an excellent job and turns it down so he can be near Ruthie. In this regard, Beau and Ruthie relationship is a little different from Boaz and Ruth’s. Beau is a more active pursuer than Boaz, but that is a change that came with the translation of the old story to a more modern setting. In addition, the “handfuls of purpose” (represented here as a little extra added to Ruthie’s paycheck) are not provided by Beau, but by Julius Kingsford, her employer. However, these minor changes in the story’s relational dynamics do not detract from the heart of the original tale.


The play emphasized the necessity of growing through grief. All of the major characters, even the minor ones, faced some kind of grief before the story began. Naomi, Ruthie, and Julius had all lost spouses. Junior Kingsford lost his mother. Beau had faced the horrors of war, where he saw a friend die in a foxhole intended for him. But as the story unfolds, Ruthie learns through Beau that living life to the fullest is the best way to honor the dead, especially the dead who have given their lives for others. This is where the redemption element of the story shines: as Beau has learned to love the life that his friend’s death allowed him to have, so must Ruthie embrace the new life she’s been given in this small town in South Carolina.


Though the play’s opening began with the memory of death, it closes with the promise of new life and a bright future. The final scene takes place after the christening of Ruthie and Beau’s little boy. All of the characters come onstage and lift glasses of sweet southern tea to toast to the promise of the future. Viewers familiar with the story of Ruth will be reminded of the conclusion to the book where Ruth and Boaz introduce their son, Obed, father of Jesse, father of David, a member of the line of Christ. On this hopeful note, the lights dim on a set of colorful characters who have grown through grief to become better people than they were at the beginning.  


By Emma GallowayIMG_8607


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