Anyone not already fed up with sensitive adolescents coming of age may find diversion in “The Socialization of Ruthie Shapiro,” though Barbara Nell Beery’s ’60s-era memory play doesn’t add much new or authentic to the genre. Theater West’s earnest, resolutely one-dimensional acting emphasizes the need for several more drafts before it’s all ready for primetime.
Twelve-year-old Ruthie (Claire Partin, rather too halting of speech) is drawn in the Frankie Addams/”Member of the Wedding” vein of lonely dreamers seeking “the we of me.” Her “we” materializes in the form of Texas transplant Loretta (an amusingly gawky Heather Keller), though older brother Ronnie (Nick McDow) warns against palling around with anyone weird if Ruthie wants to fit in.
There is one scene of shocking reality of which one wishes the play boasted more: a casually drawled anti-Semitic epithet leads our heroine to hide her Judaism from her new friend. (Not easy for a Shapiro to do, as she herself admits.) Eventually Ruthie discovers the road to junior high popularity is paved with cruelty, though many who got along without throwing best buddies under the bus would beg to differ.
Beery brings in the cultural paradoxes of utterly non-observant Jews, as well as young girls’ easily misinterpreted physical intimacy, without ever truly defining her impenetrable protagonist. Grown-up Ruth says 1967-68 taught her to build walls to keep others out, including her parents, yet Constance Mellors’ bland mother sends few signals as to how we’re to view this central relationship.
It was probably unwise to have the adult Ruth spell out her ultimate fate in an opening monologue, thus reducing our imaginative participation. It was certainly an error for helmer Susan Morgenstern not to insist that Ronnie be given a few filial bonding moments, so as to insert a little tenderness and allow McDow to exhibit something other than unbridled hysteria.