Helena Ruoti Explores Her Inner Advice Giver

Article excerpt

You need only glance at Helena Ruoti's copy of "Ask Ann Landers" to know the actress takes her work seriously.

An uncountable number of colorful sticky notes protrude from the pages of this well-thumbed volume that Ruoti has been consulting while preparing for her latest role at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

David Rambo's "The Lady With All the Answers" is the 13th production that Ruoti has acted in at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and her third play there since 2006.

Producing artistic director Ted Pappas, who is directing and costuming the play, is happy to be working with Ruoti again.

"She is a real leading lady -- in the old style," says Pappas, admiringly. "She is very modest in rehearsal -- all ears -- listening, researching, preparing. She will try anything. She is fearless ... leaps into it."

Pappas had Ruoti in mind when he picked "The Lady With All the Answers" for the 2008-09 season. He had already directed her in "Oedipus Rex" and "The Comedy of Errors" and wanted to work with her on a more modern play.

Ruoti chooses carefully before taking on a new stage role.

"It's not only the roles, but the environment," says Ruoti. "It's informed first by the play, but also the roles, the people I'm going to be working with, the director. ... Anything that makes you grow as an actor."

She also takes into consideration what's going on at home.

Ruoti and her husband, vascular surgeon Dr. Sam Simone, live in Mt. Lebanon where they have raised five children. They have been married since 1976.

Son Tommy, a recent medical-school graduate, is starting his residency at Dartmouth, Matt has an information-technology job in North Carolina, and Emmy is in the pre-med program at Allegheny College. Still at home are the sports-minded Anna, a sophomore at Mt. Lebanon High School, and Max, who is in his senior year there.

So far, only Max seems to be following his mother's path. He is considering a career in screenwriting. His play, "Paradise," was one of six staged during City Theatre's 2005 Young Playwrights Festival.

Her long-time friend and occasional director Marci Woodruff says the fact that Ruoti has raised five brilliant children is one of the things that impresses her.

"I'm in awe of her balancing act. ... Her organizing skills are mind-boggling. She has her kids color-coded on a calendar," says Woodruff. "She's so giving, and with her kids, she runs a very tight ship"

Both Woodruff and Ruoti are night people. It's not unusual for them to be talking on the phone at 2 a.m.

Woodruff credits Ruoti and Simone with helping her get through a recent fight with breast cancer.

"Helena was my biggest cheerleader," Woodruff says. "You couldn't have anybody better for a friend and colleague. ... If I could clone her, I'd be a happy camper."

An actor's life

When Ruoti was 10 years old, her mother took her to see "The Sound of Music."

"It was transformative for me. I got the record and would sing along with it," Ruoti says. "Then at 12, I discovered I can't sing."

Not one to be discouraged by small obstacles, Ruoti found other theatrical outlets for her talents, she says.

But it wasn't until she was in graduate school at Penn State that she discovered acting classes or, as she puts it, "that there could be a method to this madness."

After making her professional debut in a production of "What the Butler Saw" with Alan Schneider and paying Henny in a production of "Awake and Sing" with Morris Carnovsky, she followed her then- medical-student boyfriend to Pittsburgh in 1975, where he was moving to do a residency in general surgery. …