Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Anna Deavere Smith

Some day, if it hasn't happened already, Anna Deavere Smith, the versatile actress who specializes in one-woman shows focused on a timely theme, will be officially recognized as one of the living legends of the American theatre. We saw her Saturday night in her new show Let Me Down Easy and as far as I could tell no one was disappointed. She embodies something like 20 people - many of them celebrities - in this one-woman show about health care and coping with the end of life, and while it is true as Christopher Isherwood pointed out some time ago that we never get to know any of them as well as we might like, we are exposed to a diverse collage of personalities that forces us to think a great deal about the kind of society we have and the kind we want.

Smith takes on the challenge of trying to inhabit folks as varied as Ann Richards, Lance Armstrong, Lauren Hutton, Joel Siegel, and the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, all in their own unvarnished words, and as we are introduced to one person after another who has been abused by our health care system, we are reminded how cruel and uncaring this system can be and how daunting the challenges are as we endeavor to do something about it. It should be noted that these vignettes are also about social class and how differently we treat people depending on their class position. I was most moved by Smith's impersonation of the Dean of the Stanford University Medical school who tells us that our greatest costs go to care for people in their last 6 or 8 months of life. As a society, we are simply too immature and too fearful to talk about this and the thinking such a situation requires us to do. As we make our first, deeply flawed attempts to reform health care under President Obama, Smith's documentary play may be one of the places worth turning to, not so much for new information, but to understand more viscerally the toll that our refusal to act continues to take, particularly on the poor and neglected, but almost as much, on the privileged as well.

1 comment:

  1. I've never had the good forture to see her live. What a treat for you. Her film and TV work showcases her ability to inhabit a role such that it is hard to imagine what she might actually be like. And that is acting...