Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Smart People"

"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth

"Smart People"

A Review by Sheila Barth

After seeing Lydia Diamond’s brilliant play, “Stick Fly,” critics and theatergoers alike eagerly anticipated her latest commissioned work, “Smart People”.

Unfortunately, for many of us audience members seated in the rear of Wimberly Theatre, under the balcony overhang, we were disappointed - not with Diamond’s play, but the theater’s acoustics. The actors were inaudible most of the time.

As theatergoers closer to the stage yukked it up, and delivered an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of the play, many of us sat, dumbstruck.

Since the show is running through July 6, Huntington Director-Artistic Director Peter DuBois has plenty of time to adjust the problem. 

Diamond is a highly intelligent, clever writer, who dares to tackle subjects like inherent  or blatant racism head-on. She forces people to search deep within themselves, look squarely in the mirror, and question whether they are genetically hard-wired to become bigots and racists, while declaring they’re liberals and post-racists. 

Think Donald Sterling. Think Justin Bieber, Richard Nixon, and the multitudes of naysayers. The subject isn’t new. It’s ages-old.

“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 multi award-winning, classic musical, “South Pacific,” (based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Tales from the South Pacific),” tackled racism when it was rampant, but not discussed openly. 

Diamond has gone further, though. With her four main characters, she presents a fractured image of Harvard University savants, each with his/her own take, attitude, experience, scientific and educational exploration about racism and its individual effect on them.

Roderick Hill effectively portrays Brian White (please note the significance of his last name), a white neuro-psychiatrist Harvard University teacher who’s scientifically exploring the brain’s reaction to images of multi-racial people.

Ginny Yang, (Eunice Wong) Brian’s Chinese-Japanese American new girlfriend-lover, is a tenured Harvard psychology professor, who tackles race and identity among Asian-American women, and their problems. She has written a study on the subject, and seeks medical verification.

Ginny also is a shopaholic, who weasels and worms her way into getting expired coupons accepted, free delivery, and other customer preferred services. And, she says, she’s a slut.  

Talented African-American American Repertory Theater MFA graduate student, Valerie Johnston (marvelous Miranda Craigwell), spends much of her time auditioning for roles ranging from classical theater (which she usually doesn’t get) to stereotypical African-American subservient roles (which she deplores).

After a stage accident that requires stitches to her forehead, Valerie meets cocky, African-American Harvard Medical School surgical intern, Jackson Moore (McKinley Belcher III) in a teaching hospital emergency center. He is outspoken in his praise of his treatment and diagnosing of patients, but feels discriminated against.He blames racism, instead of his short-tempered outbursts, as his reasons for being passed over and relegated to lesser tasks in the hospital.

While these four go-getters aspire to maximize their potential and realize their goal, they’re disappointed, devolving to the blame game. In some cases, Sometimes, they’re justified; other times, they’re their own enemy.   

They intersect in December 2008, opening with dinner together at Brian and Ginny’s place, then flash back a year earlier, tracing how they met, befriended, interacted, and courted each other. As the play opens in the second act, it fast- forwards back to the beginning.

“Smart People” ends abruptly with Aaron Rhyne’s spectacular video projections, flashing President Barack Obama’s triumphant inaugural parade, motorcade, and speech in this January 2008 epilogue of his glorious victory and inauguration, then fades to darkness and silence.

Besides this talented cast, set designer Alexander Dodge’s two-level, quadrant-partitioned set with movable panels,sections transform simultaneously into a locker room, hospital, classroom, dining room, restaurant, dress store, bedrooms, Paul Gallo’s careful lighting and sound designer M.L. Dogg’s jazzy interludes between scenes greatly enhance this upbeat, contemporary production.

BOX INFO: Award-winning playwright Lydia Diamond’s new, two-act comedy,  appears to June 29 at the Huntington Theatre Company’s Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion venue, Wimberly Theatre, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston:Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m.; June 11,18,25, at 2,7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2,8 p.m.; June 15,22,29, at 2 p.m. only; check for related events. Tickets:start at $25, senior, subscriber, BU community, student, military, 35-below discounts. Visit or call 617-266-0800. 

"Smart People" (23 May - 29 June EXTENDED till 6 July)
@ Boston Center for The Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide