Let Me Down Easy at the ART

by Jim Spencer on September 18, 2008 · 0 comments

Anna Deavere Smith performed an engaging one woman show exploring grace in the light of human tragedy and death.

The theater and stage were ideally suited to present an intimate topic on a very humane scale.

Smith moved from chair to chair sometimes benefiting from a table as she shifted from character to character. Donning a different jacket and slipping into a different pair of shoes provided the visual cueues to match the new character’s unique voice and mannerisms.

Bare Feet

She moved easily from character to character slipping out of one garment and into the next. Many roles were completed bare foot. She noted after the show that we enter and leave this world bare foot. Being bare foot allowed her to “walk in other people’s shoes” throughout the performance as well as to “feel the floor”.

After the show she further explained that the crew provided her with a sprung floor. She stated that the feedback, the bounce in the floor, was important to her.

Back Story

The roles that Smith portrayed are based entirely on in person interviews completed by Smith over a period of years. These interviews led her to genocide, holocaust, medical care, stoning, beheading and war. The show represents a small percentage of the material that she collected.

Sprinklings

Voices from the show offered the following

  • Stoning takes time. You have to think about it. A machette or a gun, you don’t have to think.
  • Watching someone murder family members you see that he is just a man, not a monster.
  • Forgiveness must be requested
  • Can you give a man grace?
  • “Never Again”.

The interview with a Buddhist Monk suggests that grace is a strictly Christian concept. This character laughed repeatedly, providing the most comic relief.

Smith explained after the show that human language cannot capture the scale or meaning of grace. She learned that grace is “hard work”.

What I saw

I was dumbfounded. After the show, I wrote down a little word association just to try and collect my thoughts. In the middle is grace. On the top I wrote the words that were most represented in the play and on the bottom what I associate with the word grace.

death, genocide, sickness, fear

Grace

hope, inspiration, Love, gratitude

I learned that I have a very different view than what was presented.

Mortality became the lead character. Grace was something that only showed up at the extremity, the most challenging times of life and it was often followed by death.

Having read not a word about this play and literally knowing nothing about it in advance, other than the word grace, I expected the opposite of what I saw.

Think on these phrases;

  • the gift of grace
  • grace and beauty
  • power and grace
  • the miracle of grace
  • Godlike grace

Onelook.com offers the following definitions of grace

â–¸ noun: a disposition to kindness and compassion; benign good will (“The victor’s grace in treating the vanquished”)
â–¸ noun: (Christian theology) the free and unmerited favor or beneficence of God (“God’s grace is manifested in the salvation of sinners”)
â–¸ noun: elegance and beauty of movement or expression
â–¸ noun: a short prayer of thanks before a meal
â–¸ noun: (Greek mythology) one of three sisters who were the givers of beauty and charm; a favorite subject for sculptors
â–¸ noun: (Christian theology) a state of sanctification by God; the state of one who under such divine influence (“The conception of grace developed alongside the conception of sin”)
â–¸ noun: a sense of propriety and consideration for others
â–¸ verb: make more attractive by adding ornament, colour, etc.
â–¸ verb: be beautiful to look at

Those definitions fit my walking around understanding of grace. I was surprised by how much I missed seeing these qualities in Let Me Down Easy. They were not entirely absent. In fact after some consideration I am certain that they were there. After all, that was meant to be the point of the show.

Let Me Down Easy.

By no means did this play let me down easy. Often times audiences appreciate art and theater just because of that, just because it makes you think or pushes you out of your comfort zone, provokes a reaction. In that regard, this performance succeeded. In fact, I would like to see the show again to further assess how I may have so misunderstood grace or missed the shows presentation of grace.

I would have liked to leave the show inspired.

How have you come to understand grace?

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