US actress portrays Lance Armstrong on stage

Actress plays Lance Armstrong in one-woman play about dealing with cancer

by Kevin Emery   October 16, 2009  

Anna Deavere Smith.jpg

A play in theatres across the pond features a monologue from Lance Armstrong. But before you ponder whether the cycle star is making the transition from road to stage don’t worry – he is just one of many people being portrayed by actress Anna Deavere Smith in her one-woman play which looks at how people deal with dying. She also plays a bull rider and doctors on the stage.

Let Me Down Easy, at New York's Second Stage Theatre, had a successful debut last year and consists of monologues based on interviews Smith conducted with 20 people, including former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who died of cancer in 2006, playwright Eve Ensler and model Lauren Hutton.

In the Armstrong monologue, the seven-time Tour de France champ and survivor of testicular cancer talks about competitiveness as an athlete and the drive to beat cancer.

Quoting Armstrong while resting on the couch eating bits of fruit to portray the athlete, Smith says: "The motivation is failure, cause failure's death."

Armstrong is upbeat in the play but many of the others tell harrowing stories about those who are not so lucky. The show includes monologues from Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, a physician at a New Orleans public hospital whose patients were not evacuated as Hurricane Katrina tore through the city in 2005, and Trudy Howell, director of a South African orphanage where children are dying of AIDS.

Smith, one of the most acclaimed and provocative theatre artists in the US, began research for the play in 2000 and interviewed 300 subjects in the United States, Germany, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa and the show is part of Smith's larger project of interviewing people and re-creating their speech exactly how they said it -without dropping a single um or uh - into a larger monologue.

The monologues, each drawn verbatim from interviews with real-life subjects with journalistic precision, explore the power of the body, the price of health, and the resiliance of spirit

The New York Times called the play "engrossing," if "a little celebrity-centric." Her previous work includes Fires in the Mirror, a monologue about the 1991 Crown Heights riot in New York called Fires in the Mirror, and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, about the Los Angeles riots.