April 22, 2009 - Let Me Down Easy at Zachary Scott Theatre
When Anna Deavere Smith takes the stage at ZACH for her one-woman show Let Me Down Easy, you know something magical is about to happen. You can see it in her eyes.
Probably one of the greatest American stage actors alive today, she does the impossible: holds an audience spell-bound for 90 minutes with nothing but an extended monologue.
Her new show, now playing in Austin before transferring to New York, is the result of 10 years of work, and more than 200 interviews, to explore the subject of death. But it's the specific interviews that she culled - and the real-life people that Smith inhabits to speak their own words - that make Let Me Down Easy such a remarkable night of theatre.
Smith doesn't just emulate her subjects - she becomes them, down to the quirks and ticks. She transforms herself - voice, body, mannerism, stature and emotions - in the blink of an eye, from athlete Lance Armstrong to playwright Eve Ensler to a Midland teenager with leukemia. And the words they speak through her are entertaining, thought-provoking, and sometimes heart-breaking,
Since this theatre piece was born in Texas, the performance is heavy with Texas characters, including the late Governor Ann Richards. The show will probably evolve before it reaches New York, but it’s Ann that gets the biggest reaction of the night.
The only stumbling block in the production is the stage hand that continually reappears to bring Smith the prop or piece of costuming that aids each character transformation. The repeated interruptions break the flow of the show, and the distractions drain the emotional power from several key moments. Hopefully, by the time the show reaches New York, a hope chest will be added to the set, where Smith can produce the props and costume pieces herself - like a Pandora's Box, where she can slip on a jacket as easily as she slips on the soul of each new character.