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A CurtainUp Review
Let Me Down Easy
The production currently playing at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater is the first stop on a national tour is the culmination of ,the multi-talented Smith's interviews with three hundred people on three continents. After extrapolating from those verbatim lines that are relevant to the main subject — dying, a subject that remains as relevant today as when the piece was first seen in New York two years ago (New York Review).
Smith is a marvelous mimic. Inevitably, some characters are more interesting than others. Lauren Hutton comes over as a shallow ditz; cyclist Lance Armstrong regards his illness as just another mountain to climb. ""I never felt bad about being competitive,""he says and that includes his cancer. Sports writer Sally Jenkins' assessment of Armstrong is that "all athletes aren't happy until they burn themselves up." The brilliant choreographer Elizabeth Streb, best known for throwing herself and her dancers against walls from great heights, muses about death, ""some people just embrace the danger, the fire. I was on fire."" Eve Ensler, feminist author of The Vagina Monologues unsurprisingly turns the subject of death into "there's sex and there's your body."
The most poignant monologues come from Ruth Katz, who gets the same nonchalant and inefficient care others are exposed to until her job as dean of Yale Medical School is revealed. Equally moving are the words of Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, a doctor at Charity Hospital in New Orleans during the days following the catastrophic hurricane Katrina. She comments "you see the desperation of being poor in this country. I am ashamed of our country."
Let Me Down Easy is not all downers. Not at all. Smith and director Leonard Foglia mix up the vignettes so that you may be on the verge of tears of sympathy one moment and laughing the next. Former Texas Governor Ann Richards, always good for a one-liner, does not disappoint. And movie critic Joel Siegel, whose response to the specter of losing his life is not just "let me down easy," but the best laugh of the evening when he tells comedian George Burns' joke about a gorgeous woman offering an old man "super sex.""His answer: "I'll take the soup."
It should be noted that Riccardo Hernandez's set has non -distracting white furniture and three ceiling to floor mirrors --A Chorus Line redux or reflections of the audience that seem to be saying,"listen, buddy, this could be you." Ms. Smith wears a no-nonsense white shirt and navy pin-striped pants. Although it is the words that carry Let Me Down Easy, the ending, however, is as visually dramatic as it is verbally definitive. It will not leave you laughing. It will leave you thinking.