LET ME DOWN EASY by Anne Deavere Smith is brilliant

The legendary Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep with her latest hit: Let Me Down Easy.Photographer: Joan Marcus

LET ME DOWN EASY: Solo Performance by Anna Deavere staged by Leonard Foglia. Berkeley Rep, The Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. ( near bus lines, bike routes, and parking lots – and only half a block from BART) (510) 647-2949 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (510) 647-2949 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or toll-free at (888) 427-2788 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (888) 427-2788 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or www.berkeleyrep.org. June 1 - June 26, 2011.

LET ME DOWN EASY by Anne Deavere Smith is brilliant

Anna Deavere Smith’s stunning performance of Let Me Down Easy last night on Berkeley Rep’s Rhoda stage brings to mind the first line of Dylan Thomas in his untitled poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” and later the refrain “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” It was written for his dying father. Anna Deavere Smith is writing/performing for the living but she uses the verbatim words of her interviewees to eviscerate our Health Care System imploring to be “let down easy” in our final days. She received a much deserved standing ovation from the sold out audience and her stay has been extended for 2 weeks.

Fortunately for the Bay Area her show that has been playing throughout the nation was available to replace the much anticipated Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup, which has been rescheduled to September so that its star can recuperate from a knee replacement. The production has been moved intact using director Leonard Foglia;s New York/touring version and Ricardo Hernandez’s staging incorporating four suspended mirrors that double as screens with video projections.

No matter how spectacular the staging, it is Smith’s words and mimicry that carry the evening. She recreates her 20 characters from interviews recorded over a 10 year stretch. Those characters are male/female of all ages, ethnicity, and social levels. They range from athletes (bicyclist Lance Armstrong and World Heavyweight boxer Michael Bentt), to super model Lauren Hutton to deceased former Texas Governor Ann Richards. The common thread between Armstrong, Hutton and Richards is their ability to pay for their extreme cost of medical care not attainable by the majority of the populous.

Smith effectively uses distinctive props and simple clothing changes appropriate for each impersonation. Calling them impersonations does not do justice the simplicity and authenticity of her voice changes with nuanced idiosyncrasy of the character she brings to life. A very touching segment comes from the director of an orphanage in South Africa comforting a child dying of AIDS. Then there is the devastating monologue of Dr. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke's from the Charity Hospital in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina that will tear your heart out.

It is a stimulating and thought provoking evening by a master off solo performance defying verbal description that must be seen to be appreciated. Running time one hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com