Review by Tulis McCall
7 Oct 2009
Anna Deveare Smith presents 20 characters/people in this production of Let Me Down Easy. Right around number 15, my butt started to hurt. It’s a basic fact that when your butt starts to hurt you are not focusing.
This is not a boring show – but it is a long one. It is also an unfocused production – are we talking about life? Death? The Human Spirit? All of the Above. All of the Above seems to be the correct answer. In this 90-minutes plus evening we are whisked through interviews with religious leaders, athletes, medical professionals and patients, a few artists, a governor and assorted others.
There are some gems these people give us. Eve Ensler thinks women are terrified of the passion and fire and mess of sex, so they focus on fixing their bodies instead. She used to measure women on the street by thinking who was operating “in her vagina” and who “out of her vagina”. I loved that.
Dr. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke had her reality altered during Katrina. As a physician at Charity Hospital she prided herself in the care she gave to her patients. When Katrina hit, her clients told her that the levees had been breached intentionally to save the uptown folk. The doctor couldn’t believe that. Then she spent 6 days and nights, with no power except backup generators, watching her staff take care of patients using flashlights as the only light source The uptown hospitals were evacuated. Charity was not. “It was my first time being abandoned,” she said.
Joel Siegel (now deceased) thinks about the phrase “Let Me Down Easy” and imagines a large hand lowering him into his grave. He is a Jew so he doesn’t pray “for” anything because that just doesn’t make sense. But the image of that big old hand letting him down is pleasing.
Ann Richards, former Governor of Texas, reflects on the fact that she can afford her wonderful team of doctors. Susan Youens, musicologist, finds majesty and solace in Shubert. Eduardo Bruerra of the Anderson Cancer Center observes that we approach death like we approach problems in life, and that there is no medical training for how to speak to a patient for whom medical treatment options have ended. Phil Pizzo of Stamford tells us that we spend 60% of medical monies on the last stages of life. Lance Armstrong (I’ve never been to a play) doesn’t think about death but about timing and power. Sally Jenkins, sports journalist, thinks athlete’s die twice – once when they lose their top form and once, well, you know.
As Deveare Smith moves from character to character, she maneuvers her way through a variety of props and costume pieces – coats, scarves, hats, dishes, food. These remain on the stage where each character leaves them. At the end of the show, the accumulation looks much like the empty house of a recent and dearly departed. It is a reminder that we will enter more than one of these places before we are done – and we will leave one behind as well.
For my money I would have preferred about half as many interviews that were more in depth. I wanted to get to know these people, but because of the brevity of the pieces the one I got to know was Deveare Smith. She is the common denominator, after all, talking, talking, changing costumes and... In the end Let Me Down Easy becomes an evening more about the storyteller than the story.
CHARLES ISHERWOOD for NEW YORK TIMES says, "Continually engaging"
LINDA WINER for NEWSDAY says, "Anna Deavere Smith's new piece is about death and dying, but please don't run away."
DAVID SHEWARD for BACK STAGE says, "This stunning 90-minute essay in play form should be required viewing for tea-baggers, progressives, and anyone who has a body."
SAM THIELMAN for VARIETY says, "The punchy ... show is a totally vital piece of theater"