Online Hubbub: Let Me Down Easy, Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Which character was your favorite and why?

“The woman from South Africa working in the orphanage. I lost my mom when i was a baby and the compassion she expressed and exemplified gave me a lot to think about. I also loved the Dr. Gomes last piece in Mt. Auburn. My family has had a lot of loss in the last 6 years and we have learned to grieve and then try to celebrate the loved ones.”—Nora H.

“Probably, the woman from the South African orphanage. She evinced the most eloquent humility (which, I suppose, might be a “definition” of “grace” in itself.).”—Rich L.

“Ann Richards: energy, humor, recognizability.”—Ephraim D

“The last one because it remind me that we should live life in life…”—anonymous

“The orphanage worker at the end of the play. She possesses optimism and embodies grace.”—Pamela M.

“Rev. Gomes – his observations on the dying and death. Caring and comfort for both the dying and those who live on.”—Blake A

“The director of the orphanage in Johannesburg. Her ability to just be with the children. Also Anne Richards and her “chi” – I interpreted this as how to set boundaries around our vulnerable selves and choose how and whom to relate to.”—Paula F

“Peter Gomes because I have seen him speak and his character was played to perfection—not only his mannerisms but his intellect.”—Bill H

“All of them because they all spoke to my heart, I enjoyed greatly the Buddhist monk because he reminded me so much of my personal experience with Buddhism.”—Carlos N

“Ann Richards because we knew her and loved her and ADS brought her to life. Any of the Rwandan women whose pain was so vivid that one still hurts in their memory.”—David and Judy S

“Ann Richards because she was the most recognizable to a broader audience… (The Harvard crowd appreciated all the Gomes material but I wonder how that all would play in Cleveland or Tacoma.) Ann Richards was a smart, funny, honest woman respectfully re-enacted by Ms. Deavere Smith. The second act moved much more smoothly than the first. The juxtaposition of comic moments followed by intense, serious reflections worked well…as did the use of shorter interview segments. I was also struck by the character that ended the first act…so powerful.”–PFrontera

“My favorite was the caregiver in the New Orleans “charity” hospital who would not leave her people – and maintained their dignity and value by being one of them. There were many touching characters – I would love to see the whole piece again.”—Elisabeth T.

Who else would you suggest that Anna interview in her ongoing exploration of grace?

“Someone concerned about the environment–a botanist or biologist.”—Vermillion Flycatcher

“I would suggest she interview the teachers of very young children who are underpaid but so highly effective and necessary in this world. The woman who taught my now college age son in K1 is still a woman we mention in our ‘grace before dinner’. Mrs. Maguire saved him from sadness and hurt after a time of bullying that had altered his personality.”—Nora H.

“I suppose politicians might be interesting (though it might be best to talk to ex-candidates, or wait until after the election…) Philosophers and poets (of course.).”—Rich L.

“The Pope, a prisoner, a child, a hooker, an addict.”—anonymous

“I’d love to hear about the soldiers coming back from war who have lost body parts and are making a transition to a new life. Grace must play a role.”—Pamela M.

“Those groups (medical, foundations, volunteers) trying to build health care facilities around the world. They need to understand grace.”—Blake A

“Caretakers of parents.”—Paula F

“Something should be added regarding the grace of birth. Perhaps this was covered in the interview in the garden, but the grace of new life both human and animal.”—Bill H

“Women who are pregnant, and nursing. That is an intense experience of the body, and of grace.”—R

“Sarah Palin…. just kidding. Pema Chodron.”—Carlos N.

“George Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.”—David and Judy S

“How about the Amish families from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that forgave the man that shot up their school house and then reached out to his family? Also, if you have not already interviewed her yet, immediately get to Ellen Stewart, founder of La Mama etc. in New York. Mama, as she is affectionately known, is a powerhouse woman of color who has been a source of grace for many. Seriously, learn about her and get to her…she will change your life!”—Pfrontera

“The disenfranchised are a wonderful source of stories of grace; they are more connected to real issues – or perhaps they are more honest!”—Elisabeth T.

Have you experienced grace in your life? How?

“I have experienced grace through learning about nature and sharing that learning experience with others, either those who teach me or those who simply share the experience.”—Vermillion Flycatcher

“I have been extremely lucky and have encountered it in rare and wonderful places as well as in the everyday mundane living of one’s life. I met a woman on the Island of Iona who literally stopped in the middle of the road to ask her God to bless me and take the sadness away. I had buried four people in six months and was weighed down by grief. She was a pilgrim from New Zealand and in our chance encounter in the Abbey we learned why each of us was there. She was a minister with a street ministry in NZ and felt very comfortable simply talking to God and asking him to help me cope with loss and sadness. I left the island with a sense of wonder and yes, grace.”—Nora H.

“I suppose I’d have to define the term first (though perhaps it’s essentially always being “defined” in the flux of everyday experience.) I imagine grace manifests itself in small acts of kindness, which do stand out in memory; unexpected generosities and sharings, of which I’ve been fortunate enough to have been the “donor” and recipient, as are most people.”—Rich L.

“Swimming in amniotic fluid.”—Dennis F.

“Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about a theme that was in the background of many of the pieces: the relationship between the word “grace” and the word “gratitude” or “gracias”–that the feeling of gratitude and thankfulness (which is not always possible) is in itself a force of grace. The Calvinists were not crazy when they talked about grace as something that comes from God and cannot be earned–it fits our experience that some people are able to look at this too-short and too-hard life and feel happiness. Happiness is grace–it might be that simple. And the Calvinists may be wrong that we can’t prepare ourselves to accept grace–maybe forgiveness, love, understanding, and the willingness to see the good and/or the suffering of other people are prerequisites of grace. Happiness, as Ann Richards says, is largely a state of mind. Happiness, the monk says, is intrinsically tied in with expanding circles of being so that we connect ourselves to other people.”—M.H.

“I am a very radical person and I love someone or I just don’t like it at all. Many times it is very difficult for me to let it go when people “break my heart”. Thank God I have a few special friends that help me to see the bright side of me instead of my shadow.”—anonymous

“I’m still working on the definition of grace, but I believe I have received blessings in life. Through acts of kindness by others and the grace of something larger than myself, I learn daily lessons of gratitude and the need to give back.”—Pamela M.

“A young nurse named Susan who cared for me when I was very ill with cancer – I don’t know what happened to her. Her grace, as she helped me, is something I will never forget. I will always hold her close to my heart for the grace she exhibited.”—Blake A

“Yes – through caring for my father for the last 6 years of his life. Grace was to me the opportunity to release my anger towards him and see him as a full human being, not just as a parent. It was different from forgiveness as there was nothing to forgive, just allowing other perspectives into my emotional life with him.”—Paula F

“Today I experienced grace because I came to the play with my parents who are from Flint, Michigan. They are voting for John McCain. My mother loves Sarah Palin. I am voting for Barack Obama. Sometimes I find it difficult to share things I love with them because we have very different values. I wanted to bring them to the play because I wanted them to experience Anna Deavere Smith, who is one of my favorite performers, but I was also afraid they wouldn’t like it; maybe too intellectual, too left-leaning. Well, they loved it. We were all very moved. So, grace for me is this power of art to bring us together.”—Dakota Cole

“Grace is a second chance, available to many who have suffered a misfortune. The film “Babette’s Feast” makes this point dramatically, not in the form of a lecture.”—George F

“Most recently, my wife, her sister and her husband and I spend the last week of my mother-in-law’s life at her bedside. An 85-year-old woman who was not ready to die quite then, once she knew that her passing was inevitable she made a shift that amazed us all. While I could spend a long time detailing what mom was like during those final hours, what really matters here is the GRACE she exhibited as she was preparing for her last breath. For myself (us all) her passing embodied one of the powerful manifestations of “grace-in-action”. It was her mindfulness of not just her passing but her compassion for all of us surrounding her, all the way to her youngest great grandchild.”—Carlos N

“We all have. The trick is to recognize it. It doesn’t happen just once. And it isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience. (See any story by Flannery O’Connor).”—David and Judy S

“Many times. My sense of the grace I have received has happened to me when I have had to deal with a difficult situation in my own life –initiating divorce, dealing with cancer—and I have felt safe, cared for, and okay!”—Elisabeth T.

Other comments?

“This was one of the most profoundly moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen. As a theatre professional I see theatre and take my students to a lot of it. We were all so incredibly moved that it was difficult to leave the theatre and rejoin the outside world.”—Nora H.

“I am grateful to Ms. Smith for engaging with this question, not one to which I’d given much thought.”—Rich L.

“The piece felt sprawling to me, the through line was hazy at best.”—Ephraim D

“I think Act I is a complete entity, and I was very moved by the end of Act II (partly because I’m a parent), but I think there is some kind of disconnect between the Acts. She is a brilliant performer – brilliant – and excellent interviewer, collage artist…but a little more dramaturgy is needed to make the whole thing coalesce.”—R. Lawson

“I wish the monk’s comments about extending compassion to other people had been tied in more obviously to Power’s comments about contracting circles leading to genocide.”—M.H.

“I liked the play but wished for more connections between the emphasis on the body and the theme of grace. The play struck me as a bit fragmentary. I am not speaking about a desire for linear development, but a bit more tightening of the overall structure. Great acting, of course.”—Pamela M.

“Grace is compassion, poise and understanding that go far beyond the rational or instinctual response to events.”—Blake A

“Thank you, Anna, for this ongoing work.”—Paula F

“Anna, you have a phenomenal talent and energy. Thank you for sharing your power & emotion with us. It must be draining. I loved the methodology: interview, choice of narrative, and bringing the character to life. Fabulous. It seems to me that you are still trying to find the meaning of grace… I will enjoy seeing where you are further along the journey.”—Diane D.

“It was OK, but 2 1/2 hours is too long and she didn’t make it clear what point she was making. No one that I know would want to listen to me for 2 1/2 hours talking about what is wrong with the world. I would not consider this “drama,” which makes a point through suggestion and metaphor — it was a documentary of the author’s experience. Not why I go to ART.”—George F

“What a tour-de-force!”—Carlos N

“ADS has such talent and energy and empathy, and her intentions are so good, that it seems ungracious (sic) to criticize the performance. But the focus is a bit blurred, and after suffering with the victims of Rwanda, the lecture from the Dean of the Medical School about the lousy American health care system seems a bit of an anti-climax. And the script needs an editor; not all the theologians have anything to say that I would pay theater ticket prices to listen to.”—David and Judy S

“Let Me Down Easy was wonderful! Anna Deveare Smith has remarkable talent. Her presentation moved well, NEVER dragged and she “created” wonderful characters. I found her stories touching and real, but not sappy. Thanks for another great theater experience.”—Elisabeth T.

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