Jennifer Lanier

What’s up, doc? Let me down easy.

Profile Theatre winds up its season with Anna Deavere Smith's deep dive into health care in America. It's a matter of life and breath.

How are you feeling? Been to the doctor lately? How’s your health insurance? Uncovered emergency bills draining your wallet and shooting your blood pressure through the stratosphere? Go to the closest hospital instead of the in-network hospital for that medical emergency, and now you’re stuck with the entire thirty-thousand-dollar bill? Welcome to health care in America.

And welcome to Let Me Down Easy, Anna Deavere Smith’s remarkable series of linked monologues that are getting a remarkably vivid and engaging performance through June 16 from Profile Theatre. Smith’s play both is and isn’t about such pertinent questions. First produced in 2008 as a solo show performed by its author, Let Me Down Easy predates Obamacare, “death panels,” skyrocketing costs on crucial medications, the relentless right-wing campaign to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and leave millions with no coverage at all, the state-by-state assault on abortion and reproductive rights, and the rising rebellion against private insurance companies and demand for single-payer health coverage.

Vana O’Brien as Texas Governor Ann Richards. Photo: Brud Giles

In a political sense, then, Smith’s play is last decade’s news. And yet it still feels fresh and up-to-date, because it’s less an agitprop play about specific policies than an inquisitive investigation into people’s attitudes toward life and death and the ways we think about what a healthy life means. In one way or another each of the twenty-odd characters in Let Me Down Easy is dealing with questions of mortality. As James H. Cone, a minister, puts it in the opening monologue: “Let. Me. Down. Easy. Those are words of a broken heart.”

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When sports & Shakespeare collide

Original Practice Shakespeare’s ambitious summer tour brings the Bard (and a referee's whistle) into Portland and surrounding parks

By CHRISTOPHER GONZALEZ

When our loved ones ask us, “Why, dear – why do you want to spend three hours of our evening watching, perhaps for the fifteenth time, yet another Shakespeare production?” we ought not to suggest that we go simply because … it’s good for us. Original Practice Shakespeare Festival provides us with a fresh and infallible argument: “Well, honey dearest, this is our chance to see Shakespeare the way he would’ve seen it.”

Checkmate.

Stan Brown as Capulet in OPS’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo: Tiffany Gilly (Rousseau)

It’s odd to think that Portland’s Original Practice Shakespeare is one of only two companies this side of the Mississippi performing Shakespeare as it was originally performed — at least, in certain ways. That is to say, without the convention of rehearsals, directors, memorized lines, and most strikingly, without pretense. (In other ways, performances are decidedly not Elizabethan. Many of the actors are women, for instance. In Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed on the stage; boys played the women’s roles.)

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