"Nurse Jackie" Star Tackles Healthcare

Character queen Anna Deavere Smith takes the issues to the stage

By Carmela Ciuraru
Anna Deavere Smith takes character acting to new heights.
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith created her own theatrical genre by interviewing people, then performing their words verbatim in one-woman shows. This month, she returns to off Broadway with Let Me Down Easy, a production that explores the frailty—and resilience—of the human body. Smith conducted about 300 interviews for the performance, in which she channels Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and the late Texas governor Ann Richards, as well as Hurricane Katrina victims and cancer patients.

The play, which was inspired in part by the 2003 passing of Smith’s mother, also delves into the flaws of the health care system. "I was mindful of everything that was happening to my mother," Smith says. "In particular the way doctors treated her and her family at the end. It wasn’t always pretty."

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