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Review: Let Me Down Easy (American Theater Company)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Let Me Down Easy (American Theater Company)   
Let Me Down Easy

Written by Anna Deavere Smith
Directed by Bonnie Metzgar
American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron (map)
thru Oct 10  |  tickets: $43-$48   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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Enthralling material hobbled by uneven performance


Review: Let Me Down Easy (American Theater Company)


American Theater Company presents


Let Me Down Easy

Review by Catey Sullivan 

The 19 monologues that comprise the brilliant writer/interviewer Anna Deavere Smith‘s Let Me Down Easy, contain a multitude of provocative, insightful, humorous and wise commentaries on death and dying.

Review: Let Me Down Easy (American Theater Company)
Deavere’s interviews with a wide cross-section of people – actresses, authors, scientists, athletes, health care workers and teachers among them – yields an almost overwhelming array of emotions and attitudes toward illness, aging, healthcare and the end of life. The subject matter is fascinating, the text culled from them rich with thought-provoking moments. Performed by Usman Ally and directed by Bonnie Metzgar, Let Me Down Easy is a brave and risky show. It’s also a show that looks fantastic. Yu Shibagaki’s evocative set design calls to mind both the rusting, looming emptiness of a long-vacant industrial warehouse and the bounty of a Thanksgiving cornucopia, two images that are apt visual metaphors for a conversation about life and death and dying.

But the American Theater Company production is hobbled on several fronts: First and foremost, the show is diminished by an affectation-laden performance that often feels more like an extended, somewhat solipsistic acting exercise than compelling piece of storytelling. Secondly, with a run time of nearly two hours, “Let Me Down Easy” is both repetitive and in need of an intermission.

The strongest portions of Let Me Down Easy arrive in the first third of the piece. The second monolog up (following a brief prologue on the title’s meaning, presumably in the voice of the playwright) is from Lance Armstrong. Knowing what we all know now about Armstrong’s years of doping, lying and cheating in order to remain at the top of the competitive cycling world, it’s more than a little ironic to hear him talk about the importance of honesty and integrity. Ally does well here, depicting Armstrong as a shifty, entitled, self-absorbed jerk whose twitchiness indicates a body either in the throes or the aftermath of chronic drug abuse.

Review: Let Me Down Easy (American Theater Company)

Ally is also effective as Brent Williams, a bull rider steeped in machismo whose world is turned upside down after a gory rodeo accident. Sidelined from the profession that he loves, Williams completely loses his identity – without the ability to work, he feels he utterly lost and painfully insignificant. Anyone who has ever been laid off after conflating who they are with what they do will feel the guy’s pain.

But a disturbing thing happens once Ally begins trying to channel the female characters in Let Me Down Easy. Whether he’s playing Lauren Hutton, Eve Ensler, Ann Richards, choreographer Elizabeth Streb, sports columnist Sally Jenkins or any of the other women in the piece, Ally turns the character into a compilation of loopy affectations. You laugh at, not with these women, who invariably don’t come across with the depth or the dignity of many of the male characters in the show.

Review: Let Me Down Easy (American Theater Company)
Ensler minces about in an oversized scarf exuding a fervent battiness as she equates anorexia with capitalism. Hutton comes across insufferably privileged and unaware, even as she’s owning up to her own privilege and detailing just how being a beautiful, famous white woman has exponentially opened up her access to top doctors. Richards is a drawling, sass-and-brass cartoon. When Streb talks about a fiery brush with death, she seems just crazy, not the renowned avant garde artist that she is.

Some of the women Smith interviewed fare a bit better: A segment from health care provider in a charity hospital during Hurricane Katrina is heartbreaking and enraging. A musicologist talking about Shubert’s early death and the masterworks he left behind is deeply moving. But in most cases, Ally diminishes the women of Let Me Down Easy to quirks and comic relief.

Death, dying, aging and health care are massive, inherently dramatic topics that Deavere explores with great skill, honesty and expressiveness in Let Me Down Easy. But no matter how enthralling each individual monolog culled from her many interviews is, the production inevitably starts to become repetitive and a tad exhausting as the parade of characters marches on. Give the show an intermission, and afford its women the same respect as its men, and you’d really have something spectacular.


Rating: ★★½



Let Me Down Easy continues through October 10th at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron (map).  Tickets are $43-$48, and are available by phone (773-409-4125) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes, no intermission)

Review: Let Me Down Easy (American Theater Company)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Usman Ally

behind the scenes

Bonnie Metzgar (director), Yu Shibagaki (set design), Brian Hoehne (lighting design), Bill Morey (costume design), Stephen Ptacek (sound design), Liviu Pasare (projection design), Katie Klemme (stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)


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