One-woman play lifts us up easy

In the vast wasteland of Friday-night television, PBS has inserted a rich variety of concerts. This week, there's "Let Me Down Easy," Ann Deavere's one-woman show about life and death and health care and more.  Here's the story I sent to papers:


As Anna Deavere Smith crafts her shows,
one fact stands out: People are VERY different.

The latest example, “Let Me Down
Easy,” reaches many PBS stations (check local listings) Friday.
Under a broad theme – life, death, medicine and more – she
portrays such people as:

– Ruth Katz, the former associate
dean of Yale's medicine school. She even threw a big party, Smith
said. “I'm probably one of the few playwrights who's had a
character throw a party for her.”

– A few well-known people, some of
them now dead – former Gov. Anne Richards, the Rev. Peter Gomes and
film critic Joel Siegel. “Joel was telling jokes when he was almost
too frail to speak.”

– One relative. “My Aunt Lorraine
came with busloads of people from Baltimore,” Smith said. “She's
80 and they're like: 'Now I've got to put up with her talking about
she's on Broadway.'”

Or off-Broadway, a logical spot for
Smith. She's been “creating a truly unique and individual form of
theater,” said David Horn, who produces PBS' “Great

Smith interviews people, then portrays
some of them in plays. Some of her shows centered on a specific event
– including riots on each coast; this one is more of a concept.

The suggestion began more than a decade
ago, when the Yale medical school wanted her to create performances.
She finally began interviews in 2005, debuting “Easy” four years

“I thought it was a play on the
vulnerability and the resilience of the human body,” Smith said.
“Then (director) Mike Nichols came to see it and said it was about
kindness. I translated that into 'grace.'”

From patients to a New Orleans doctor
during Hurricane Katrina, her characters show grace under pressure. A
prime example is Brent Williams, a rodeo bull-rider she met at an
Idaho wedding.

“He walked in the room and looked
like a million bucks – sort of Montgomery Clift, all banged up,”
Smith said “And I couldn't take my eyes off him.”

He was, she decided, her opposite. “He
didn't got to a lot of school. He's a completely physical person. He
gets banged up. He's proud of his injuries; I'm terrified of getting

Smith showed him her world. “I took
him to my apartment, which is a loft” in New York City's Tribeca.

Here was a successful actress – a
regular on “Nurse Jackie” and “West Wing” – showing him her
home. His response: “Uhh, it's just one room.”

– “Let Me Down Easy”

– 9-11 p.m. Friday, under the “Great
Performances” banner

– Many PBS stations (check local