Q & A with Craig Johnson

Becoming Dr. Ruth marks the third time you've worked with MJTC. What attracts you to this theater company?

My two previous shows with MJTC were in the 1990's so they feel like a millennium ago. Hahaha. Seriously, as a freelance actor and director I love the flexibility of being able to work on different shows at different theaters with different people. We are so lucky to have such a rich variety in the Twin Cities. I love MJTC because the mission is so clear and specific - so for this Lutheran it's an opportunity to take a deep dive into another culture that I admire so much. 

How did you prepare to direct Becoming Dr. Ruth?

Goodness, I've been watching lots of videos of Dr. Ruth from the 1980’s and 90’s! How crazy to be able to access the character so directly. Beyond that, I always let the script lead me, so continually re-reading gets me into the world of the play -- the style, tone shifts, emotional transitions, and arc of the story. The page is black and white, but on stage everything transforms into living color.

What are some of the challenges in portraying a known, living personality onstage? 

There is always the ongoing decisions about what to mimic and what to loosely "suggest." We're just heading into that process with Miriam Schwartz in Becoming Dr. Ruth. Miriam is an excellent actor as MJTC audiences well know, and she'll bring the mannerisms, dialect, and inner life. She's a little taller than Dr. Ruth's tiny stature and younger than the character is on stage, so that's where the physical production will support the storytelling: costumes, wigs, make-up are our friends, and we'll scale some of the furniture larger than life so we can see what it's like to be a short person in the world.   

How do you relate to Dr. Ruth's life story?

I love the title Becoming Dr. Ruth because it allows us to experience how one specific, extraordinary life was created and developed over time. It allows all of us to reflect on the touchstones and events that shape and define us. When do we "wander" and how do we create a home? What do we share and what do we keep private? Dr. Ruth's public life is very important to her identity, but her personal history will certainly surprise many.   

Any favorite lines from this show?

Late in the play Dr. Ruth quotes philosopher Hannah Arendt: "Education is the point at which we decide we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it." That resonates deeply with me. 

Who or what inspires you?

Dr. Ruth's story of course comes to mind immediately: lives that triumph over adversity without losing hope. I'm inspired by her optimism, humor, and focus on listening to and helping others without judging them. Good qualities to nurture throughout any life!

What do you love most about the Twin Cities?

The quality of life -- for me that includes the theater and arts scene, the museums, the quality of education, the attention on health and wellness, progressive interfaith organizations, the magnificent parks system and attention to the natural environment, strong civic engagement, and quiet modesty.

What is your dream show to direct?

Becoming Dr. Ruth. Yesterday it was Spamalot. Two weeks ago it was The Matchmaker. On the horizon lie Clybourne Park and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. How lucky am I? I like immersing myself in a show and falling in love with the characters and story - and with the wonderful people who commit themselves so fully to caring to tell the wild, crazy, tragic, and ridiculous stories about being human.