APT: Smart People

It would never be my intention to create best of lists of plays or concerts. My intention it to just record my responses and share them with you. But: OH. My. Goodness. If there was ever one play that I saw in person in 2020 or viewed virtually online that I want to see again, it is Lydia R. Diamond’s Smart People. Immediately!

Because I am a professional grade procrastinator, I didn’t watch this online until its run was at its end (or get around to writing about it until now). So I didn’t leave myself the opportunity to watch it again. But I do want to see not only this play again…soon…but this exact virtual American Players Theatre’s Out of the Woods reading as directed by Melisa Pereyra. (So note to APT and Brenda DeVita: this is a perfect candidate for a reprise during Black History Month).

Smart people is about smart people. Four of them to be exact. And we know that they are smart because they work in and around Harvard. And in the contemporary vernacular they are ‘woke’ people when it comes to racism and sexism. Our four smart people are Ginny Yang, an Asian American psychologist played by Amy Kim Waschke; rising Black actor Valerie Johnston played by Cassia Thompson; Black surgical intern Jackson Moore played by Rasell Holt; and white neuroscientist Brian White played by Jeb Burris.

screen shot from virtual presentation

Over the course of the two act play they interact with each other on a one to one basis and eventually they all eventually meet. They are all acutely aware of racism and sexism and the full variety of stereotypes and push back promptly and directly when they find themselves on the receiving end.

But then it gets confusing, because during their initial interactions with one another, we see that they too are willing and able to apply stereotypes to strangers, and don’t see themselves doing it. This is probably the biggest takeaway from this play…our best intentions aren’t always enough…we need to be on guard against doing these same things in our own lives.

And finally all four of them come together for a dinner party at Brian White’s apartment…and they realize that they have all met at one time or another…and have all mistaken the intents and identities of the others…and the evening ends in a huge and painful meltdown…and a great deal of that hinges on the fact that Brian is…well I won’t go into spoiler mode here but playwright Lydia R. Diamond brings this to a heady and fraught climax…and leaving some big questions for us all to take to heart.

screen shot from virtual presentation

Now if this all reads as very contemporary, well it surely is. But the under story is that this is written for the period during the first presidential campaign of Barack Obama…so we clearly see that we haven’t progressed as much as we’d hoped.

This virtual presentation was performed live by APT on November 20, 2020 and was then available for viewing on PBS Wisconsin through December 31, 2020. It is part of their series of readings written by BIPOC writers, and created by BIPOC artists. It deserves to be exhibited again in the future, sooner rather than later!

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