Anna Deavere Smith needs little introduction to A.R.T. audiences; many of you probably remember her electrifying performance in Fires in the Mirror, or encountered her during the multi-year Institute on Arts and Civic Dialogue. (You’ll also recognize her as Nancy McNally, National Security Advisor on The West Wing.)
Anna is one of the country’s greatest writers and performers, with a unique theatrical style. Each of her productions is an investigation into questions of political and personal identity – the LA race riots in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, the violent encounters between African-Americans and Lubavitch Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in Fires in the Mirror.For each production she conducts hundreds of interviews, and then herself performs the interviewees on stage, taking meticulous care to reproduce their vocal intonation and physicality. The result is a diverse and non-partisan approach to impossibly complex situations – a truly democratic interweaving of politics and theatre.
In her new show, Let Me Down Easy, Anna turns her attention to the human body, its beauty, frailty, and resilience, at the start of the 21st century. The project began with a residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where Anna interviewed doctors and critically sick patients about the boundaries between life and death; it continued when her friend Samantha Power, a professor at Harvard and leading expert on genocide and American foreign policy, suggested she travel to Rwanda to meet victims of the civil war that ravaged that country.
Once Anna had identified the body as her subject, she expanded her research in many directions, interviewing supermodels and elite athletes, celebrities of physical culture such as Lance Armstrong and Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), amateur boxers and sports journalists. The result is a surprising and, I think, deeply moving meditation on the human body, full of juxtapositions of tone and subject, comic and tragic. It’ll be a delight to welcome Anna back to Cambridge.