“Let Me Down Easy” by Anna Deavre Smith is not your average play. While the masterpiece lacks a plot and character interaction, it doesn’t disappoint. Smith wrote a series of monologues which she originally performed as a one person show, but was performed by five actors in the Chapman Theatre in Nichols Hall Sept. 22-25.
The monologues all center around experiences with death. The people depicted in the play are all real people, some famous and some not, who are dealing with end-of-life issues. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the downer I was expecting. Each stage personality is quite matter-of-fact about his or her situation, and I was left understanding that death is merely another life experience.
The actors didn’t use much of the stage; they would pick a spot and stay there. Frequently, the actors’ faces were obscured from view. On the other hand, the stationary nature of the performance made it easier to keep the characters separate.
The research done and the way it was incorporated into the performance was extremely impressive. Jay Garrison, freshman in fisheries, wildlife, conservation and environmental biology, was comfortable as Susan Youens, a musicologist at the University of Notre Dame, and was just as convincing as V, formerly Eve Ensler, a writer from New York.
Despite the subject matter, there were brief moments of lightness. Evelyn Pickands, junior in theatre, started the first monologue with a description of catching on fire. In a twist, her take on the scene was amazement — not fear. While it wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, her character was so matter-of-fact that it kept the play from being depressing.
Another performer, Walter Wright, freshman in theatre, played two different ministers. It would have been easy to recycle gestures and mannerisms, but Wright did not fall back on repetition.
Nikela Reed, junior in theatre, classical studies and film studies, had the broadest range of characters. Reed made the intelligent artistic choice not to alter her voice to sound like a man’s when she played male characters. She did use an accent when she played characters from Texas, but she didn’t try to recreate Ann Richard’s distinctive twang. Doing so would have stood out amongst the other performances, and not in a good way. Reed was particularly effective as Lance Armstrong — though she looks nothing like him, it seemed she was channeling him well.
Guest performers took the stage each night, much to the surprise and delight of the audience. On opening night, the guest actor was Debra Bolton, Kansas State’s director of intercultural learning and academic success. According to the program notes, Bolton wasn’t used to being onstage, but she did a fine job. Although she read from her script, she appeared relaxed and calm.
The most stunning moment of the play was the very end. Ingrid Patterson, sophomore in theatre, playing Matthieu Ricard, a translator for the Dalai Lama, poured a glass of water into her open hand. It seemed to be the focal point of the play. Death is natural and inevitable but ultimately is a beautiful part of life.