Let Me Down Easy Written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith is a genius, and she even has a MacArthur fellowship to prove it. Anyone who is lucky enough to take a seat in the Second Stage Theater on West 43rd Street and be regaled by the 20 real life characters created by Smith in For Let Me Down Easy will burst out acclaiming her bravura intensity for all to hear.
Anna, as her characters refer to her, pioneered a form of theater at the confluence of journalism, caricature and mimicry, all tied together with a shining bow of theatrical excellence. Anna takes her time to create her work and will not be rushed. For Let Me Down Easy she spent years interviewing celebrities, folks, clergy, doctors and hospital administrators across the county in order to find a synthesis that hits pitch perfect.
Health care in America at this crucial moment is on all of our minds: how to get it, how to pay for it and how to feel safe. Anna began work on Let Me Down Easy with a commission from the Yale School of Medicine. Her findings were then wrapped into an early version of the play and shown at New Haven’s acclaimed Long Warf Theater, and then debuted this fall on Broadway. This is not the usual route to creating theatre, but then Deavere Smith has never done anything other than work off the grid and make her audience rethink whatever subject she is tackling.
She is a consummate journalist whose ear is pitch perfect when both questioning and listening to answers. She begins by taping everything and then she returns to the tapes, edits them and becomes the person whom she interviews. Do not skim over this, she is an alchemist and she becomes for our delight and education a Buddhist monk, a boxer, her aging aunt, Joel Siegel, Eve Ensler, former governor Ann Richards, a patient at Yale New Haven hospital and Lance Armstrong among others.
Each character contributes a salient piece on the debate about ageing, becoming ill, dying or attempting to be well and achieve in a society which often seems to not value those who are not perfect: women who are not svelte, the wounded, the poor, the uninsured, the uneducated. Anna gives them all an eloquent voice. She equally allows the celebrities and higher ups in the pantheon of medicine to wax poetic about how they view this confused landscape of medical care and the shifting sands of health.
As the characters emerge Anna is served props or costume pieces by an unidentified hand maiden and by the end of the nearly two hour piece the wonderful set, flaked by mirrors, is littered with the detritus of the twenty characters we have seen metamorphosis before our eyes. Boxing gloves, wine, eyeglasses, a hospital gown, and various suit jackets, all remain to remind us that every character, every story builds on the one before it in this play, as in our lives.
This kind of thought, effort and execution is rare and is the result of long hard work. Anna Deavere Smith has a glorious team surrounding her in the director Leonard Foglia, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, costumer Ann Hould-Ward and the movement and dialect coaches, dramaturge and various assistants; they all must be noted because Anna obviously knows that all the characters she brings so vibrantly to us are the work of a kind of distillation whereby gallons of liquid are distilled to produced drops of elixir. Do not hesitate to run and drink from the magic Anna Deavere Smith has created.
Thru November 8
ONLINE at www.LetMeDownEasy.com
CALL (212) 246-4422
VISIT THE BOX OFFICE at 305 West 43 Street