Last week, I got a chance to see Anna Deavere Smith in Let Me Down Easy at Berkeley Rep.
Here’s the thing: I’m a sucker for actors performing multiple parts in the same show. I’ve even written a play based precisely on that idea — a play that’s a fictional version of verbatim theater, with actors playing multiple parts and speaking in the actual words of characters they interviewed.
Of course, my interviewees are 100% made up and the situation they’re in is completely ludicrous, but the basic idea is the same: that there’s something amazing about watching an actor slip off a pair of glasses, slip on a scarf and utterly transform into another person.
And when the actor is Anna Deavere Smith and one of the characters is former Texas Governor Ann Richards, a woman I completely adored and whose cadences and rhythms and personality I know and love and actually got to see re-created onstage — wow.
I’m going to assume that you know Smith’s process of interviewing hundreds of people and then bringing the most interesting ones to life onstage using their precise words. But I’ll assume that you don’t know what this particular play is about, thus giving me a chance to add a few more paragraphs and one more photo.
The play is more or less about health care, although the official line from the press release does a better job of describing it: “a stunning story about the vulnerability of the human body, the resilience of the spirit, and the price of care.”
More importantly, it features fascinating interviewees like rich-enough-to-afford-any-doctor Lauren Hutton, a rodeo rider who broke all his bones and became an unlikely advocate for a single payer system, and world-famous cancer survivor Lance Armstrong — each seemingly appearing out of thin air whenever Smith shifts her weight, changes her voice and literally becomes these characters.
If you know me, then you already know I’m going to say I found this show pretty damn stunning, because it completely fits my aesthetic, which I always describe as “we’re in an office, take a step, now we’re on the moon.”
This play doesn’t go to the moon, but I have no doubt that, had Smith interviewed a 7-foot-tall astronaut floating in zero gravity, she could have completely embodied him, too.