Two years after presenting “Rounding It Out,” her portrayal of 11 doctors and patients at Yale [“A Dramatic Turn,” Spring 2001], playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith maintains her Yale connections as she dons a white coat in her role as the cardiologist on Presidio Med.
When Smith plays Letty Jordan, M.D., on the CBS drama, her point of reference is Yale: Smith prepared for the role by shadowing interventional cardiologist Joseph J. Brennan, M.D., HS ’86, an associate professor of medicine. Smith followed Brennan one hectic day at Yale-New Haven Hospital, watching him interview patients and do angioplasties and catheterizations. “She asked a lot of questions—how would we deal with complications, how we approach the patients in getting consent,” said Brennan.
“I like to do a lot of research,” says Smith. She met with Clinton’s national security advisor, Sandy Berger, when preparing for her analogous role on the television show The West Wing.
The world of medicine continues to absorb Smith as a playwright. She hopes to develop “Rounding It Out” as a full-fledged theater piece. Smith was back on campus last fall to perform this work for the first reunion of internal medicine house staff and fellows (See Chronicle). She has expanded the piece she first presented in Fitkin Auditorium in November 2000. The new version includes Smith’s portrayal of actress Lauren Hutton discussing her recovery from a motorcycle accident in October 2000. Smith said she included Hutton to explore the role of social class in access to medical care.
Smith finds interviewing patients and physicians compelling. Patients provide an intensity essential to her work of “trying to locate openness and urgency and willingness and desire to communicate. The patients have that, and it’s very rare. They have that because they would like to be heard—by their doctors, by the society.” As a playwright, she shares with physicians the opportunity to communicate meaningfully with the people she interviews. “The kind of theater I am committed to is first and foremost connecting to human beings,” says Smith. “This experience at Yale has been very precious to me, because that is what the doctors have the opportunity to do.”