It is a new Off- Broadway play set in 2008, just before the election of Barack Obama. NY1’s Roma Torre filed the following review of "Smart People."
True to the title, the people in Lydia Diamond’s play are smart. Each of the four characters is linked to Harvard University and they sure have plenty to say, specifically about the issue of race. It is a heady, at times humorous deconstruction of what it means to be white, black and Asian. And at nearly two and a half provocative hours, it’s clear the playwright did her homework.
Brian teaches neuro-science at Harvard, Valerie went to grad school there for acting, Jackson - a doctor - went to Harvard med school, and Ginny is a psych professor there. Over the course of the play they intersect as friends, lovers and colleagues. And set in 2008, a pivotal year with the election of America's first black president, their conversations invariably drift toward the topic of race, directly or by inference.
Ginny works with Asian women. Valerie is stuck with black stereotyped roles. Jackson feels prejudice on the job. And at the center of the play, Brian's controversial study definitively proving that white people are hardwired to be racist against blacks.
The dialogue, as you'd expect among Harvardians, is hyper intellectual, and Diamond gives her characters a sharply humorous edge. But it's also something of a dialectic. There's little plot to speak of and it starts rather slow.
Kenny Leon’s slick direction plays up the drama’s filmic qualities, and he has put together a dynamite cast.
Joshua Jackson - expressing Brian’s exasperation with academia; Anne Son - projecting Ginny’s steely veneer; Tessa Thompson - conveying Valerie’s career frustrations; and as Jackson, Mahershala Ali’s combustible temper - combine to give us among the season's finest ensemble performances.
There is much to ponder here and it is awfully dense, but if you're up for it, I do recommend "Smart People." Among its many insights, one stands out: When it comes to matters of race, there is no such thing as black and white.