Anna Deveare Smith

Why I Wrote a Play About Health Care

By Anna Deveare Smith

When the Yale University School of Medicine invited me to Connecticut to interview doctors and patients and create a performance for their medical grand rounds, I didn’t think the resulting project would lead to a new national play. But it was such an extraordinary experience that it inspired me to create “Let Me Down Easy,” an exploration of the American health care system.

My time at Yale opened my eyes and ears not only to the world of medicine, but to those who need it and use it on a regular basis. I enjoyed talking with both the doctors and the patients. The patients tended to be expressive and full of the need to tell their stories. The doctors were more analytical, more reflective. Both were riveting interview subjects.

In different versions of the play, I worked with many different doctors and other health care professionals. I even spoke with a traditional healer from Uganda. One of the voices I remember well is Dr. Philip Pizzo, dean of Stanford University School of Medicine. He spoke passionately about the larger health care system, and the condition of health care and medicine in this country. According to Dr. Pizzo, we have hard choices ahead of us, and we need to pay attention societally as well as personally. His perspective helped bring this version of the play home to this very moment in America.

As Dr. Pizzo and so many others told me, our health care system is in need of repair. It seems to me that the system has lost some of its way as it has become more and more market-driven.

As many have observed, this moment in our history appears ripe for innovation, and for thinking differently about the challenges we face. After my interviews at Yale, with Dr. Pizzo, and with so many others, it has become evident to me that this is true for our health care system just as much as, if not more than, any other segment of our society.

To be certain, I think doctors and others in the medical profession bring an enormous amount of experience and expertise to the table. I hope that if they come to see my play, it allows them to sort through ideas and feelings they have and emerge with a new intellectual mix, if you will. I’d also like them to leave with a renewed sense of their healing mission.

–Anna Deveare Smith is an award-winning playwright and actress who is best known for one-person performances in which she plays multiple and diverse roles.

Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

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