The four characters who make up the cast of Smart People like to pontificate. They definitely are book smart, but not necessarily smart in dealing with friends and lovers. Two of them are professors at Harvard, one is an intern at Harvard Medical School who also finds time to operate a clinic, and there is a Harvard educated actress to bring arts into the mix.
The playwright Lydia Diamond comes up with contrived ways for the four characters — a white man, an Asian-American woman and two African-Americans — to meet and interact. Brian and Ginny, the two professors, meet at a Harvard committee meeting and begin a forced flirtation and an equally forced relationship. Brian is friends with Jackson, the intern, who meets Valerie the actress when she comes into the clinic after a stage accident. They flirt. Valerie gets a job at Brian’s office. Ginny meets Jackson to sign up patients for a study. Finally there’s a dinner party for the four of them with much posturing and yelling. At the heart of the plot is Brian’s academic work proving that all white people are racist. There’s also the preconceived notions that Valerie has when Jackson walks into the room at the clinic and how Jackson thinks Valerie sustained her injury. And of course for good measure Diamond throws in Asian stereotypes
Maybe because the characters aren’t successfully integrated, as it were, the play’s message falls flat. There have been more compelling portrayals of smart, liberal people thinking and saying terrible things, such as “Disgraced.” I felt the most fully realized character was Valerie, and Tessa Thompson gave us a nuanced portrayal of an African-American actress who is really trying to be an actress without the qualification.I’ve admired both Joshua Jackson’s and Mahershala Ali’s television work but this play did not serve them well. Their characters, and Anne Son’s, unfortunately came across as caricatures. Smart People wasn’t as bright as it thought it was. AFW
Second Stage Theater, 305 W 43rd Street
Ticket prices: $84.00-$99.00
Discount tickets: available Broadwaybox.com, Theatermania.com, Playbill.com
Runs thru: March 6th
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission