Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Smart People
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Magic Play, Or, and Fun Home


Jaysen Wright and Lorene Chesley
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Is judging people by appearance a learned behavior or hard-wired in the brain, and why is it so difficult for people to look beyond their external characteristics and communicate with each other? Playwright Lydia R. Diamond takes on these issues in Smart People, the nervy but talky comedy now at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater.

Diamond stirs the pot by mixing together four characters of varied ethnic backgrounds, all of whom have a certain amount of educational and social privilege. The setting is Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 2007 through Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009; the people are actress Valerie Johnston (Lorene Chesley), psychologist Ginny Yang (Sue Jin Song), doctor Jackson Moore (Jaysen Wright), and neurobiologist Brian White (Gregory Perri).

Brian, a white man, is doing research proving that people of various races (specifically, Caucasians) are intrinsically likely to favor their own race; Ginny, a Harvard faculty member as well as a therapist in private practice, is determined to destroy the stereotypes of women of Asian descent. (Her ancestry is half Chinese and half Japanese, but she's all American.)

Then there's the combative first meeting of Valerie and Jackson, both African Americans, in an emergency room where he's working and she's come for treatment after injuring herself during a rehearsal. He asks if a domestic partner caused her injury; she assumes he's an orderly (he isn't wearing a lab coat) and demands to see a doctor.

These four characters, directed by Seema Sueko, seem at times like chess pieces on Misha Kachman's set of screened panels on metal scaffolding: each in his or her own little box. They may develop friendships or romances, but they can never really look beyond their own realities and connect with each other. The whole set-up is rather schematic and heavy on scientific jargon.

Arena Stage
Smart People
April 14th - May 21st, 2017
By Lydia R. Diamond
Valerie Johnston: Lorene Chesley
Brian White: Gregory Perry
Ginny Yang: Sue Jin Song
Jackson Moore: Jaysen Wright
Directed by Seema Sueko
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine Avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


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