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Dear Ann,

Playwright/actor Anna Deavere Smith’s work is not exactly light entertainment for a knitter’s Lazy Sunday. Recently, I saw Smith’s new play, Notes from the FieldIt was a brilliantly challenging evening, and it recalled to me the only other time I had spent with Smith. In 2009, I saw Smith’s performance of her play, Let Me Down Easy. It was a few months after Peter’s death, and the play was part of a subscription that he and I had shared for years with another couple, at Second Stage Theatre. Typically, the four of us rushed to the theatre from our respective daytime posts, without even knowing what play we’d be seeing that night. This night was no different. I remember looking up at the poster as we went in, and thinking, “Anna Deavere Smith! I’ve always wanted to see her!”

Let Me Down Easy did not let me down easy. The play started out with people like Lance Armstrong and Lauren Hutton talking about health, health care and health insurance–at times, being ridiculous and funny–then it went to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the rampant injustices there. Then, Smith turned to dying, dying from cancer, and the importance–the holiness–of the experience of being with someone in their last moments. I completely lost it. Uncontrollable, ugly crying in public. The three of us were seated in the middle of a long row; there was no escape.  My friends passed me tissue after tissue, and before long we were all sobbing. (Luckily–luckily?–we could hear sniffles and snurgles from all over the theatre. It seemed to be the thing to do.)  It was an incredible evening at the theatre, and I suppose it did me a lot of good. As the lights came up, I told my friends, “NEXT TIME WE ARE GOING TO READ THE EFFING REVIEW FIRST, OK?”

Unfortunately, I cannot find Let Me Down Easy available to view anywhere, although it was featured on PBS Great Performances a few years ago. (Here’s a video with some clips from Let Me Down Easy.I will never forget that evening, and I will always be in awe of Smith. The amount of work, insight, memory, understanding, withholding of judgment, and compassion that goes into her plays and performances is mind-boggling.

My search for video of Smith yielded up this full-length piece: Twilight: Los Angeles, in which Smith’s focus is on the 1992 riots after the verdict in the first Rodney King trial. It’s riveting. It’s not easy. I got a big swath of garter stitch done while watching it. At the top of the post, I’ve also linked to a video of Smith’s Fires in the Mirror, Part I.

I would say “enjoy,” but that’s not the right word. Experience!




  • <3

  • You remind me, Kay, of the last hours and moments I spent with my father. Important. Holy. Got any tissues? ❤

  • That evening may have done you good but what an intense experience.

    Although I rarely find time to follow up on all the great entertainment you and Ann share, I appreciate reading about them. Thanks!

  • Oh my dear—I too have had that experience in a theater. The fact that you were seeing AD Smith must have made it even more intense. Thank you for finding these clips for us to garter stitch to.

  • She came to Rutgers once and did segments from her play about race riots … it was an unforgettable evening (though I forget the title). Good theater does make you feel things,

    For a lighter Smith, she is in “The Amerian President” – though I admit I was watching West Wing while sewing last week and it just depressed me.

    Swaths of garter stitch, indeed – if you can knit without looking!

  • From another ADS fan, I’m thrilled to hear about more of her performances. I use Fires in the Mirror in multiple college courses I teach, and ask students to try some of Smith’s own interviewing/performance project themselves. It’s always hard, always scary, and always, always worth it.

    She is an exceptional artist and human, I think, and I’m grateful for the work she puts into the world.

  • Big hug for you.
    Thank you for this recommendation and I will definitely save this one for later. At the moment (meaning for about the past 33 days but who’s counting) I’ve been on a very restricted diet when it comes to emotional triggers. I don’t think I could afford to watch Bambi right now.

    • P.S. Loved The Crown! And unlike many viewers, I’m finding this version of a young Philip far more, hmmm, sympathetic? Accessible? Well, “understandable as a partner choice” than Actual Philip. Kudos to Matt Smith! I wouldn’t have thought it could be done.

  • Several years ago, Anna Deavere Smith spoke at a professional conference (of health sciences librarians) that I attended. She spoke about how she wrote “Let Me Down Easy” and performed snippets of it for us. She was amazing!

  • Thanks for sharing this Kay. I will think of you and your dear one (and my dear ones and all of those dear ones so many of us have lost to cancer) when I watch it. I will also think of those who are so deeply worried about losing their health care with the advent of this next administration. See you at the March, I hope. XOClare

  • Sending GIANT love and hugs, Kay.

    Was lucky to see Anna one night on a food sustainability panel with Alice Waters and Homi Bhabha. What a glittering presence and intelligence she brought to this most down-to-earth topic. Truly a Renaissance woman.

  • Both my parents died in the month of December over the past few years. I have not felt jolly this month. I look at pictures of when they were young, with their whole life ahead of them and think of how badly it ended. I understand your pain. Thanks for sharing this great actress.

  • Sending you extra hugs for sharing that difficult memory.

  • Anna Deveare Smith is a frequent performer at one of my local theaters. I have never missed a performance. Her work is very important. Theater is not always about entertainment-it’s also to teach us.

  • I went to see Juno while very pregnant, which had a similar result. Very cathartic!

  • I am catching up on posts. I am a huge ADS fan. I’ve been fortunate to see her performances several times. True theatrical genius.

  • This old post popped to the top of your menu. Did you realize the program you were searching for is now showing on HBO?

    • Edit. Notes From the Field is showing on HBO.

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