Playwright Eve Ensler (as interpreted by Smith) explores the denial of life as shown in an anorexic’s distorted way of thinking. “You can’t think much if you’re eating a raisin a day,” she says. “You’re not a threat to anybody if you’ve disappeared.”
But ultimately, Smith brings the talk around to death. Eduardo Bruera, a palliative care doctor, muses about the ways of death: “Not everybody dies the same way. Some people have an easy death. Some people have a very difficult death. And that should not surprise us because ... some of us have a very easy life. And some of us have a very difficult life. We have a trend to confront the end of our lives the way we have confronted life events. ... We’re a little bit predictable in our repertoire of coping.”
In another take, Smith channels actress Lauren Hutton talking about the way that the rich defeat death: by funding facilities that research horrible diseases like cancer.
There’s enough thought-provoking material here that audiences could take the performance in more than once and still not absorb it all. And there are certainly political references: A doctor at a charity hospital in New Orleans says she was shocked that no one was surprised when the rich people got out first during Hurricane Katrina. The character of Ruth Katz, who had taught at the Yale University School of Medicine at the same time she was a cancer patient there, talks about the university hospital telling her that they’ve lost her records. But as soon as they find out her status at the school, the records suddenly reappear. It’s a sober reminder of the ways that rank and privilege affect health care in this country.
But more powerfully, the show brings an audience back to more intimate and personal moments. As choreographer Elizabeth Streb asks, “How would you like to die?”
“Let Me Down Easy,” a production of Second Stage Theatre, will be performed at Arena Stage (1101 Sixth St. SW) through Feb. 13.