REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Let Me Down Easy & Mercy Strain: the healthcare plays

By Anna Deavere Smithatc

Directed by Bonnie Matzgar

At American Theatre Co, Chicago

The healthcare plays deal with more

Usman Ally, in a tour de force performance, nails Smith’s twenty interviews. He deftly presents spinets from Smith’s verbatim interviews and he plays a man, a woman, a white, a black, , a hospital patient, a supermodel, a film critic, an ex-Texas governor, a college professor and a Buddhist monk among others.  The magic of Ally’s terrific performance is in how much he gets inside each character from the tough boxer or Tour de France victor – Lance Armstrong to the orphanage director who stays with all her dying children. Ally easily and effectively morphs into the character presented.  We do, indeed, quickly ‘see’ the person being quoted, not Ally. that is quite am acting coup!

Let me down easy1

Let Me Down Easy is billed to be about healthcare but I saw it as a primer on sickness and dying.  We hear testimonials about sickness, about the struggles to live with cancer and other fatal illnesses. Dying is refreshingly and honestly pictured with a mix of religious hope and human vulnerability. The healthcare system’s problems are indirectly presented. Usman Ally puts a multilayer face on human frailty here.

At 105 minutes, Let Me Down Easy runs about 20 minutes too long like a dinner guest who stays until midnight and wears-out his welcome. But Usman Ally’s performance save the show.


After a 15 minute intermission…part two of the healthcare plays:


Mercy Strain

Written and performed by Michael Milligan

Directed by Tom Oppenheim

Healthcare run a muck


In this 57 minute one person drama , Mercy Strain, we meet a working class rural Ohio man, Joe,  who is emotionally  is telling the police about the events that brought the cops to his home. Joe is a red-neck Rush Limbaugh listener whose life falls apart when his young  wife is diagnosed with breast cancer. When their insurance cannot cover his wife’s treatments, quickly bankruptcy and divorce follows so Medicaid can help save her.

Michael Milligan’s fantastic and deeply emotional performance aptly dramatized the problems of out healthcare system. Mulligan puts the struggle into stark human terms with all the dyer effects. Milligan is a polished performer who quickly engages us into his world of nightmares. This piece is the best argument for Obama care that I seen yet.

These two parts of the healthcare plays are riveting theatre. They play separately. I’m not sure who the audience is for Let Me Down Easy  or Mercy Strain since 20-30somethings and seniors alike don’t like to speak or thing about death and sickness. But the two performance (by Usman Ally and Michael Milligan) compel us to get to ATC.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed:September 18, 2014

For more info checkout The healthcare plays at

At American Theatre Co., 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, call 773-409-4125,, tickets $43 – $48–for more inf0, through Oct 18.,., 2014