At the beginning of "Let Me Down Easy," Anna Deavere Smith stands alone on the Lincoln Theatre stage with a couch, an empty table and some chairs. When the play ends some 100 minutes later, stage, table, couch and chairs are strewn with the odds and ends of the 20 people she has brought to life: a cowboy hat, a cane, a gym bag, a jacket, a water bottle, a wine glass.

At the beginning of "Let Me Down Easy," Anna Deavere Smith stands alone on the Lincoln Theatre stage with a couch, an empty table and some chairs. When the play ends some 100 minutes later, stage, table, couch and chairs are strewn with the odds and ends of the 20 people she has brought to life: a cowboy hat, a cane, a gym bag, a jacket, a water bottle, a wine glass.

But Smith leaves much more than that behind her in this one-woman installment of her "Search for American Character" series. She leaves memories of the humor, frustration, anger and determination of people in and around our health care system. Smith gives each person she portrays a distinct voice, manner and body language, based on hundreds of hours of interviews she conducted with them.

"Let Me Down Easy" celebrates the caring and condemns the cruelty. Among the most memorable characters is Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, a doctor working at New Orleans' Charity Hospital during Hurricane Katrina. Proud of the care her facility gives to even the poorest of patients, she is dumbstruck when the government abandons the city's indigent.

Another doctor, Eduardo Bruera, talks about how the ease or difficulty of one's life has no bearing on the ease or difficulty of one's death. Ultimately, we're "predictable in our repertoire of coping." Perhaps so, but Deavere Smith presents us with a way of considering a major issue that is anything but predictable.