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Health Reform as Theater: Let Me Down Easy

For a Broadway stage, the set is simple and spare – a long, white leather couch, a handful of wooden tables and chairs. No ornamentation is needed; the stories being told on the stage are what command the audience’s attention. Let Me Down Easy is health reform as poignant, funny and gripping theater.

A supermodel compares the high-powered physicians a cosmetics company gets her after she signs a lucrative contract to the doctors she had access to during her working-class childhood. A middle-aged woman emotionally refuses dialysis because of the terrible injuries her daughter sustained while undergoing dialysis when a hospital’s mistake left her covered in blood. And a cancer patient hospitalized with a post-chemotherapy fever describes being told not to take it personally that her chart has been lost: “that happens here quite a bit.”

Every word is true, every story describes a personal struggle with illness, dying and the medical care that sometimes happens in between. Twenty people speak, each in a separately titled vignette, but only one person appears on stage. That’s Anna Deavere Smith, who carefully selects verbatim excerpts from interviews she conducted and then meticulously mimics those interviewees’ body language and speech patterns in a manner so convincing that, in the miracle that is theater, she disappears into her characters. Some are well-known – Lance Armstrong, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards – others are not – a musicologist, a Buddhist monk, a rodeo bullrider.

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