Because You Can See Christ in Anyone

Anna Deveare Smith is an extraordinary actress, teacher, woman. Katie and I had an opportunity to appreciate that last evening at a private command performance put on by a client of mine. I do not know whether the long-time performer on West Wing is a Catholic. But she taught me about being a Catholic, and challenged me to be a better one.

Trained as an actress, Smith is a former winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and is now a professor at NYU. She has created a new form of one-woman show, in which she presents a broad range of American characters as she has encountered them in one-on-one interviews. In the YouTube clip below, you can appreciate her acting talent. But what you might not realize is that each small performance piece is taken verbatim from an interview she conducted.

This makes her performance an extraodinary act of incarnating another person—often someone of another culture, sometimes a person of the opposite gender (she plays Studs Terkel in the first piece). She incarnates these characters with complete acceptance and boundless compassion. She never makes fun of her characters; she embodies them completely.

I have been thinking about her performance since it ended last night. I have been wondering why I have been thinking about her performance. And this is the conclusion I have come to.

Anna Deveare Smith demonstrates how it is possible to see beauty, truth, and goodness in anyone. And she has made this seeing and telling her life’s work. Seeing another person this way, I imagine, I am about as close to seeing Christ in that person as I would be face to face with Jesus. Watch, listen, ponder the meaning of this remarkable woman’s work.

Language warning: If you are going to watch this with a young person, turn it off after the piece about the Korean woman. Because the final character, a rodeo rider, uses the F-word. To my mind, even this “lapse of taste” (if that is really what it is) is an act of total acceptance of a character encountered.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12442813565745123497 MUJERLATINA

    How do you say "WOW?!" This woman is brilliant and captures the essence of her characters to a 'T.' What a celebration of the panopoly of God's Creation.

  • Webster Bull

    Yes, Doc. Her latest one-woman show (just closed off-Broadway in January) is "Let Me Down Easy," about the American health care system. And here's a wonderful coincidence: Tonight at confession, I was given as penance a meditation on the Station of the Cross in which the Crucified Christ is let down (easy) into the arms of Mary.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15292156826231664316 pennyyak

    I thought I'd watch this for a minute or two, then was glued to the screen for the whole tape. What a performer.She does play her characters with respect – heart-tugging respect. I have never heard of her, but I would love to see her live.

  • Anonymous

    Today I have been thinking a lot about "seeing Christ in everyone", been practising it a lot too, when suddenly I clicked on Why I am Catholic and I saw Anna Smith practise this in her life. Thank God.

  • Webster Bull

    @Anonymous,Another one of those coincidences we crazy Catholics call the Holy Spirit! Thanks for the comment.

  • Webster Bull

    For those following this thread there are a few good bits in this short NYT piece about Anna Deveare Smith's recent one-woman show, "Let Me Down Easy."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02243579752950295851 Daily Grace

    When I saw the length of this clip, twenty three plus minutes, I thought, okay, I'll watch for a minute or two. Well, it really pulled me in and hooked me.Walking in anothers shoes, or no shoes, can open up a whole no prespective can't it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05527657294925014026 Michelle

    First of all, I love West Wing and became addicted about 2 months ago. I am now on season 4. I also now understand government a little better, but I have to relate through WW. I ask my hubby "Now, if this was West Wing, who would this person be?" Anyway, this was fantastic. I didn't think I'd end up watching the whole thing. I'm going to show my hubby when he gets home!


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