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PORTSIDE  May 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE May 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Power of Healing, as Lead by Anna Deavere Smith, NNU

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 21 May 2012 21:54:34 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (108 lines)

Power of Healing, as Lead by Anna Deavere Smith
For National Nurses United

By Chris Jones Theater critic Chicago Tribune May 19,
2012

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/theaterloop/ct-ent-0521-anna-deavere-smith-20120519,0,2870441.column A

[Anna Deavere Smith (Tribune file photo / May
 19, 2012) http://tinyurl.com/ca6m6ka]

Anna Deavere Smith has, in essence, combined a career
doing serious, interview-based theater work like "Fires
in the Mirror" and "Twilight: Los Angles" with more
lucrative acting gigs on TV shows like "The West Wing"
and, currently, "Nurse Jackie." Watching her perform
for - and rev up - a couple of thousand nurses in
Chicago Friday night, though, suggested that Smith
might well be a good leftist candidate to run for
office. Few think of her that way. Perhaps they should.

At one point in the colossal main ballroom at the
Sheraton Hotel and Towers - packed to the gills with
members of National Nurses United - Smith persuaded the
assembled nurses to stand, find three or four fellow
nurses they did not know, look each nurse in the eye
and say to each one in turn, "We need you to heal this
country."

"I believe that nurses have a power that we have not
even begun to tap into in America," Smith shouted from
the stage, as her congregants did as she had bid,
affecting a style somewhere between political agit-prop
and evangelistic ferment.

The nurses present were hardly apolitical - National
Nurses United had just held a rally in downtown Chicago
at which they campaigned for a so-called Robin Hood Tax
on banks and financial institutions, with the proceeds
going to health care and education. That said, Smith's
impassioned evocation of their profession as American
healers on a much broader level was clearly a new way
of thinking for many in the room, many of whom watched
wide-eyed, heads constantly turning to look at their
fellow nurses, en masse and all around them, with a
woman who plays a nurse on TV firing up the huge room.

"My nurses were so moved," Karen Elwood, a member of
the California Nurses Association, would say after
Smith was done. "Really, this was the first time most
of them ever had experienced anything like this."

Although there was some material commissioned for this
show - which went by the title of "Tell Me Where It
Hurts" - much of Smith's performance was taken from her
existing, if relatively new, piece "Let Me Down Easy"
(already performed in Washington but not yet seen in
Chicago), which is about the health care system and its
failings and is composed of interviews with such groups
as patients, doctors and, of course, nurses.

Smith understandably concentrated here on the last of
those groups, telling, with her typical immersive sense
of character, of a nurse who left her profession
because she had "too big a heart" to stay among the
failings of her American industry. There was talk of
lost records, insensitive residents, patients kicked
out of hospitals for financial rather than medical
reasons (at such moments, the ballroom would fill with
the sound of hissing nurses). The stories of frontline
nurses make great material for artistic miners like
Smith, not least because they constantly witness the
line between life and death and understand how and why
you might end up on one side or the other.

But the uber-text of this unusual performance in
Chicago was that America was diseased by healthcare
inequity and nurses, members of a sacred profession of
healers, must rise up in service of those most
vulnerable.

"Tell me where it hurts? I'll tell you were it hurts,'
Smith said, her voice roaring from the stage. "It hurts
when you see how privilege works ... and when poor
people die."

[log in to unmask]

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

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