One-woman play debates how people live and die

Thu Oct 15, 2009 7:29pm EDT
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Actress Anna Deavere Smith portrays cyclist Lance Armstrong, a bull rider and doctors in a one-woman play that looks at how people deal with dying.

"Let Me Down Easy," at New York's Second Stage Theater, consists of monologues based on interviews Smith conducted with 20 people, including former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who died of cancer in 2006, playwright Eve Ensler and model Lauren Hutton.

"I think that 'Let Me Down Easy' allows people to have another kind of debate ... about how we live and, as the title is 'Let Me Down Easy', how we die," she said.

In the Armstrong monologue, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France and survivor of testicular cancer talks about competitiveness as an athlete and the drive to beat cancer.

"The motivation is failure, cause failure's death," Smith says, quoting Armstrong, and resting on the couch, munching bits of fruit to portray the athlete.

While Armstrong is upbeat, many of the other people tell harrowing stories about those who are not so lucky.

The show includes monologues from Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, a physician at a New Orleans public hospital whose patients were not evacuated as Hurricane Katrina tore through the city in 2005, and Trudy Howell, director of a South African orphanage where children are dying of AIDS.

The New York Times called the play "engrossing," if "a little celebrity-centric." The Village Voice described it as a "digressive yet generous meditation on the body's abilities and limits."   Continued...