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Great Performances: Let Me Down Easy

Airs Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 12:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Credit: Courtesy of Mary Ellen Mark

Above: Anna Deavere Smith (pictured) interviews an eclectic range of people and then performs as the interviewees in their own words.

Called “the most exciting individual in American theater” by Newsweek magazine, Anna Deavere Smith (“The West Wing,” “Nurse Jackie”) turns her theatrical exploration to matters of the human body. As in her acclaimed earlier plays "Fires in the Mirror" and "Twilight: Los Angeles," Deavere Smith interviews an eclectic range of people and then performs as the interviewees in their own words.

This new gallery of indelible portraits ranges from boldface names such as cyclist Lance Armstrong, supermodel Lauren Hutton and Texas Governor Ann Richards, to lesser-known but equally memorable characters, including a rodeo bull rider, a New Orleans hospital doctor and the director of a South African orphanage — all sharing their searing experiences in confronting the price and politics of health, facing the end of life and encountering the ultimate resilience of the human spirit.

This GREAT PERFORMANCES production was recorded in February 2011 in the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C., launching a national tour that concluded in September.

“Even in the darkest hour, even where the crisis is the greatest, you’ll often find people who have the gift of grace, the gift of kindness, the gift of healing,” Smith observed. “Ultimately, through this play I am trying to spark a conversation that is easier, and maybe more enjoyable to have through art and entertainment than through politics.”

Of the production, NBC’s “Today” raved, “Run — do not walk — to see this play,” while the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “This is Smith at the top of her unique documentary form, in writing, performance and timeliness.”

GREAT PERFORMANCES is on Facebook. Anna Deavere Smith is on Facebook, and you can follow @AnnaDeavereS on Twitter.

Preview: Great Performances: Let Me Down Easy

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