Thursday, June 2, 2011

Anna Deavere Smith "Let Me Down Easy": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG BANG

We have followed Anna Deavere Smith for years, always in awe of her prodigious talent and ability to not only get into character but tug at the heart. In her new one-woman show "Let Me Down Easy," although the content and central themes are complicated, the heart has not skipped a beat.

The core of "Let Me Down Easy" is health -- unless it is life and death -- or the health care system -- no, it's death. Or life.

Smith has done interviews with many people, most of whom have experienced bouts with cancer or other serious illness, and she has turned these interviews into monologues with Smith playing the interview-ee on stage. We see famous people like Lance Armstrong, Lauren Hutton and Governor Ann Richards, plus others whose stories are even more compelling, including a tear-inducing representation of Smith's own Aunt Lorraine Coleman, a painfully honest reflection by Doctor Kiersta Kurtz-Burke who was an attending physician at New Orleans's Charity Hospital during Hurricane Katrina, and a fascinating journey into motivation from heavyweight boxer Michael Bentt who spent three days in a coma after being knocked cold.

Rodeo Cowboy Brent Williams gives Smith a chance to wear that hat and swig that beer.

If the show has a fault, it is that Smith occasionally brings us so vividly into the lives of her characters, that we want very much to see them again. You can't help but love Old Miss Effie, in the hospital, and though you don't like Lauren Hutton's view of who gets what in America, you also know she's right.

Maybe what we are saying is we want Anna Deavere Smith to give us Act Two -- to basically kill herself performing -- and bring a few of these people back with a final message. That's not asking too much, is it? It is?

The overhead projection that tells the audience the name of the character Smith is portraying is helpful. The staging is good. But, in the end, what we really want is for Anna Deavere Smith to tell us everything is going to be all right. She's not about to do that.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Let Me Down Easy" Three Stars with Two BANGLES of PRAISE! One Bangle is for putting those hands under Momma's arms to warm them up. You'll know what we mean. The second BANGLE is for Joshua Redman's original music, of which we could use a great deal more.

This is a show you do not need to be up close to appreciate. The less expensive seats in the Roda Theatre will be fine.

"Let Me Down Easy"
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre
2015 Addison Street, Berkeley

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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