Of the three shows I have seen in New York City, two have starred actresses from The West Wing. Funny how that worked out, no? I recently saw Anna Deavere Smith’s new Off-Broadway production, Let Me Down Easy, over at Second Stage Theatre…talk about documentary theater at its most raw. It was fascinating! This whole genre of theater was completely foreign to me and when I heard about this play and that it just opened in preview, I jumped at the chance to go see it. Come on, how often do you get to see a play like this AND Anna Deavere Smith live, on stage? Tis a rarity, my friend.
Based on interviews Ms. Smith did with various people (from Lance Armstrong and Former Texas Governor Ann Richards [from whom my title is from] to a Buddhist monk, among others) regarding health, the body, our country’s healthcare system and the human spirit, she has taken their dialogue -verbatim- and put it on the stage. In a straight hour and 45 minutes, Let Me Down Easy allows the audience to become privy to aspects of these peoples’ lives that wouldn’t normally be out in the open for public consumption. All via Anna Deavere Smith. What a concept. She portrays each person (I’ve found that calling them characters seems a bit odd as they are actually real people) with an edgy finesse and embodies their voice and mannerisms with such precision (…haven’t seen anything like that since Deb Staples’ performance in The Blonde, The Brunette and The Vengeful Redhead at Milwaukee Rep). At times these people were so exposed and candid that one could not help but think they weren’t real; that they were, in fact, characters.
I resisted the urge to write down quotes during the play (and I love quotes…this was quite the challenge) because: 1. It would snap my concentration and tear my attention away from the action. 2. The words spoken are from each of the people Ms. Smith interviewed; not directly from Ms. Smith, herself (Does the fact that the words she spoke were not actually her own, but those of other real people, effect how I perceived what was going on before me? Only to some degree…). However, about 3/4 of the way through I caved. Reverand Peter Gomes said something that caused me to fish my notebook from my purse, all while I kept my eyes glued on the stage as to not miss a single thing or lose this particular moment that captured my attention. He was talking about life and death…and those who know the events of my life this past spring will understand why I would become so focused on what this man was talking about. Is that what makes good theater? Stories that make you think about life, death and all in between? Stories that conjure up memories and images from months/years past that you then continually think about and cannot get out of your head? I would say, ‘Yes.’
“One of the most important things you can do for
somebody is to be with them when they die.”
– Reverand Peter Gomes, LET ME DOWN EASY