October 15, 2009 / 6:52 PM / 8 years ago

One-woman play debates how people live and die

3 Min Read

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - 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 death.

"Let Me Down Easy," which opened at Broadway's Second Stage Theater this month, 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.

Recreating Monologues

"Let Me Down Easy" has earned critical praise. The New York Times called it "engrossing," if "a little celebrity-centric." The Village Voice described it as a "digressive yet generous meditation on the body's abilities and limits."

The show is part of Smith's larger project of interviewing people and re-creating their speech -- without dropping a single um or uh -- into a larger monologue.

Her previous work includes "Fires in the Mirror," a monologue about the 1991 Crown Heights riot in New York, and "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992," about the Los Angeles riots.

"My goal is to not just say what someone said, but to say it how they said it," said Smith, who also plays a character in the cable television drama "Nurse Jackie."

"It's not just their achievement of what they're trying to say, but their failure at what they're trying to say."

Smith began research for the play in 2000 and eventually interviewed 300 subjects in the United States, Germany, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Patricia Reaney

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