Tonight we saw Anna Deavere Smith’s solo show at the Berkeley Rep. It consists of Smith performing as real-life interview subjects, a format she has used in several plays.
It’s Studs Terkel brought to life, with a couple of important differences. First and foremost, Smith conducted the interviews, but on stage, she plays the various interviewees, which is an impressive achievement, one that seems a bit exhausting (it doesn’t seem like the kind of performance where the actor would want to talk to folks immediately following the play). Smith does a fine job of delineating the characters, who range from Lance Armstrong and Lauren Hutton and Ann Richards to hospital workers and patients and religious leaders.
At the beginning, it’s not clear how these stories will connect, and Smith is never obvious. But by the end, you feel like you’ve seen a coherent work.
The more problematic difference between this play and any random Studs Terkel book is that Smith occasionally falls into a bit of snobbery. I’m sure she is quoting the exact words of supermodel Lauren Hutton, for instance, and for all I know the mimicry in that scene is accurate. But Hutton comes across as spacey and unconnected to the realities of life. Smith doesn’t do this for most of her characters, so it stands out when a less-than-positive portrait is painted. Studs always respected people, even ones he disagreed with.
Still, Smith’s performance overall is amazing, moving, funny, and effective. I’m glad we saw Let Me Down Easy.