There is a reason journalists use “man on the street” interviews. It is because they work so well. They grab the audience as nothing else can.
When the microphone is placed in front of the mouth of an ordinary soul, something new and surprising often is shared. And so it is that, using this technique, Anna Deavere Smith has created a new form of theatre. The actress, playwright, and professor interviews people–some have expertise in a given field, some are celebrities, some are just men and women “on the street”, ordinary folks who have direct experience with her topic–and turns those interviews into a theatrical experience.
Profile Theatre wraps up its double season with Anna Deavere Smith’s Let Me Down Easy, a play about the American health care system and dying in America. Among her subjects are Brent Williams (Jennifer Lanier), champion bull rider from Idaho; Ruth Katz (Allison Mickelson), Dean of the Yale School of Medicine; retired super model Lauren Hutton (Vana O’Brien); Lance Armstrong (Michael Mendelson); Trudy Howell (Eleanor O’Brien), who cares for children with AIDS at Chance Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa; and the late American theologian Rev. James H. Cone (La’Tevin Alexander), advocate for black theology and founder of black liberation theology, among others.
Each of the six actors plays several roles. Each person has their story. They put together a rather chilling perspective of health care and mortality in our country. Rather than a play that is pure entertainment, Let Me Down Easy informs, shows snippets of our social conditioning against a landscape of harsh realities, and inspires further important and necessary discussion. Solid, meaty morsels of dialog, directed by Profile artistic director Josh Hecht, move the play forward at a brisk pace.
Costume designer Alex Pletcher has outfitted each of the 21 characters with great attention to detail. The centerpiece of Daniel Meeker’s scenic design is a simple stained glass window reminiscent of a hospital chapel.
Let Me Down Easy runs in rotating repertory with Lisa Kron’s Well (see May 15 review) onstage at the Portland Playhouse venue, 602 NE Prescott St., Portland through June 16.