Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep with ‘Let Me Down Easy’

"Anna Deavere Smith is one of the great purveyors of modern culture," says Tony Taccone.

The legendary Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep with her latest hit: Let Me Down Easy.
The legendary Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep with her latest hit: Let Me Down Easy.
The legendary Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep with her latest hit: Let Me Down Easy.
The legendary Anna Deavere Smith returns to Berkeley Rep with her latest hit: Let Me Down Easy.

It’s been 15 years since she’s performed on a Bay Area stage – now Anna Deavere Smith is returning.

The beloved artist will bring her latest solo show to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the same theatre that presented sold-out runs of her previous hits: Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Conceived, written, and performed by Anna Deavere Smith and staged by esteemed director Leonard Foglia, Let Me Down Easy is an electrifying one-woman show that explores the depths of human strength. Berkeley Rep presents Let Me Down Easy as part of Arena Stage’s national tour of Second Stage Theatre’s production. The show starts previews in the state-of the-art Roda Theatre on May 28, opens June 1, and runs through June 26.

“Anna Deavere Smith is one of the great purveyors of modern culture,” says Tony Taccone, artistic director of Berkeley Rep. “I see her as a civic shaman, someone who channels the currency of opinion about huge social issues – in this case healthcare – and inspires us to think and feel in new ways. We are thrilled to welcome her back to our stage.”

“The Let Me Down Easy journey began when I was invited to be a visiting professor at the Yale School of Medicine,” Smith remarks. “My first thought was, ‘Really, me, a clown, to create something in such a serious elite environment?’ I walked away from the experience with an increased compassion for doctor and patient alike. The stories stayed in my heart and became the basis of this play.”

Let Me Down Easy examines the body and the body politic, as only Anna Deavere Smith can. Called “the most exciting individual in American theater” by Newsweek, Smith conducted 320 interviews on three continents to create this show – and now she paints indelible portraits of more than 20 unforgettable individuals. Using her unique performance style, she introduces you to a rodeo rider, a prize fighter, and an altruistic doctor – as well as legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong, supermodel Lauren Hutton, and former Texas Governor Ann Richards. Together, their voices tell a stunning story about the vulnerability of the human body, the resilience of the spirit, and the price of care. Don’t miss the latest work from this unparalleled performer.

In 1994, Anna Deavere Smith set the Bay Area ablaze with her historic solo show Fires in the Mirror – the first production in Berkeley Rep’s history to sell every ticket before it opened. This revolutionary work, which examined a race riot in Brooklyn between black and Jewish neighbors, received an Obie Award, many other awards, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Two years later, Smith was back with Twilight: Los Angeles. During its Broadway and off Broadway runs, the show – which looked at the Rodney King riots in LA – earned numerous honors including two Tony nominations, an Obie Award, the Drama Desk Award, and a Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle. It was staged in Berkeley by Sharon Ott, the artistic director of the Theatre at that time. This production shattered the attendance record at Berkeley Rep before touring to Boston, Houston, New Haven, Seattle, and Washington, DC, where it culminated in a performance for President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, and Vice President Gore.

Smith has performed both of these shows across the country and around the world, as well as on PBS. Now she returns to Berkeley Rep with Let Me Down Easy. The creative team for this show includes Riccardo Hernandez (set designer), Ann Hould-Ward (costume designer), Dan Ozminkowski (lighting designer), Ryan Rumery (sound designer), Zachary Borovay (projection designer), and two Berkeley natives: Joshua Redman (original music elements) and Joseph Smelser (stage manager).

Let Me Down Easy concludes Berkeley Rep’s 2010-11 Season in place of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup, which has been rescheduled to September so that its star can recuperate from a knee replacement. The executive producer of this local run is the Strauch Kulhanjian Family. BART and Wells Fargo continue their commitment as season sponsors at Berkeley Rep. The 2010-11 season producers are Marjorie Randolph and Wayne Jordan and Quinn Delaney.

LET ME DOWN EASY

Conceived, written, and performed by Anna Deavere Smith

Directed by Leonard Foglia

Designed by Riccardo Hernandez (sets), Ann Hould-Ward (costumes), Dan Ozminkowski (lights), Ryan Rumery (sound), Zachary Borovay (projections), and Joshua Redman (original music)

Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704

May 28 – June 26, 2011

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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