Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The Second Stage Theater is neatly wedged between a tony pre-war residential and a corner bodega, one avenue west of the south end of Times Square and a few blocks from midtown Manhattan's world-renowned theater district. The equally tony pairs of 50-and-over Anglo-Saxons and brown-skinned twenty-somethings waiting outside the building and in the "efficiency-sized" lobby had eschewed tonight's tourist traps for a local favorite. Anna Deavere Smith, penned "the ultimate impressionist" by the New York Times, was performing Let Me Down Easy. "It's a one woman play recreating interviews on wellness and spirituality," recited the usher. The monologue successfully personalized the normally polarizing issue of healthcare by re-examining how vastly different real-life interview subjects rode with the peaks and valleys of life, death, success, and vulnerability.
A home hospice nurse, who spends each 9-5 tending the living through their final days, said Smith's otherwise accurate portrayal of inequalities in access to care failed to capture death's role as the great equalizer. It's common practice (in the US, anyway) to send aging family to group homes, separating the last generation's burdens from the younger generation's responsibilities, until the former passes on into ancestry. The poor often can't afford any other option but to stay at home with their families, but have an easier time letting go of life's struggles and moving on to the next world. The powerful and privileged struggle to delay the inevitable in a world they're accustomed to controlling. They are given the finest accommodations money can buy and enough time to consider that time at their deathbed was better spent by medical staff and beneficiaries than the friends and family who should have been there out of free will. As one of Smith's on-stage personas said, different people handle death in different ways, but "The best thing you can do for someone is be there when they die."