Members say: Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Absorbing

About the show

Second Stage Theatre presents this comedy-drama tackling issues of race, sex, and class, starring Joshua Jackson and directed by Tony-winner Kenny Leon.

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The quest for love, achievement and identity is universal, but what role does race play in the story of our lives? On the eve of Obama’s first election, four Harvard intellectuals find themselves entangled in a complex web of social and sexual politics in this provocative new play by Lydia R. Diamond.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

New York Post

"'Smart People' is saying something about race and racism — but what? Lydia R. Diamond’s most clever gambit here is to frame her argument as a rom-com in which sexual and academic power moves — two of the characters teach at Harvard — play against pseudo-edgy speechifying...How ironic that a show about race would be skin-deep." Full Review

The New York Times

"A brainy but overstuffed drama…The script is stuffed with academic and psychiatric jargon and the characters often seem to be mere receptacles for the ideas they espouse rather than fully fleshed-out people. Although Ms. Diamond is clearly herself a powerfully smart writer, you come away from 'Smart People' feeling like you’ve attended a marathon series of seminars, not a persuasively drawn drama." Full Review


"'Smart People' feels like a rough draft of a potentially greater play…Diamond's contrivance is ultra-transparent. This wouldn't be a problem if it led to something. After 90 minutes of exposition we expect a truly spectacular main event, but all we get is a limp version of a drinking and fighting play…Thankfully, the performers are able to make Diamond's text seem halfway plausible." Full Review


"A sexy, serious and very, very funny modern-day comedy of manners...At the end of the play, when the characters meet at a dinner party and lay all their race cards on the table, sparks really fly…The playwright puts this incendiary topic in a realistic context, and addresses it in a refreshingly honest manner." Full Review


"New sharply satiric comedy...Diamond's crisp and clever dialogue is accented by director Kenny Leon's slick production...'Smart People' is very funny because it reflects a very sympathetic human foible; the desire to resolve our racial conflicts without messing things up every time we open our mouths." Full Review

Time Out New York

"As their lives intertwine, albeit in ways that are not always convincing, their assumptions, flirtations and arguments sit on promising fault lines of conflict. So why doesn’t the play shake us more than it does?...the production’s flaws bring out some weaknesses in the writing...Although Diamond raises resonant questions, much of her spitballing hits right on the nose. Audiences may be smarter than the play seems to believe." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"On the evidence of this unsatisfying production, Diamond is more interested in addressing the complications of race as a kind of laboratory puzzle than in embodying characters that credibly exist beyond that issue…All of these permutations and involutions of the theme make 'Smart People' the kind of play that’s fascinating to read and think about. It is not, however, very fascinating to watch…The bigger problem is that there is very little plot.” Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"The strength of 'Smart People' is also its weakness: Diamond is so busy giving her characters smart, scathing things to say that she never manages to establish a central conflict...She's brilliant at argument, less so at creating drama...If you're going to enjoy 'Smart People' you'll have to look at it as a frequently stimulating symposium rather than a fully realized dramatic work. Still, under Kenny Leon's acute direction, all four cast members make strong impressions." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

"This is a swirl of theories, propositions and provocations in search of a play…Diamond works to establish relationships in ways that sometimes feel natural and more often feel strained. She wants the conflicts among them to emerge from character. But too often they feel like writerly contrivances…That the actors feel distanced from the more academic speeches does not help." Full Review

New York Theatre Guide

"We hear some very smart people saying some very smart things. We see their lips moving, but we don’t hear a word they are saying. Diamond has given these fine actors little to work with in terms of depth. Kenny Leon’s direction does nothing to elevate or simplify the evening. These characters remain a conglomeration of facts and figures...Who these people are, however, and why we should care is never discovered." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Diamond’s schematic, only sporadically effective play...concerns four characters...The playwright uses them more as glib (and sometimes funny) mouthpieces for different viewpoints than as three-dimensional characters...The complications seem contrived and the incidents leading to lovers’ quarrels artificial...The production is smooth, the actors fine, the ideas worth a listen, and, as the title declares, the characters smart. The play itself, though, barely passes." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"A provocative dialectic and a lively comedy, with prickly characters that push back against one another's preconceptions…The occasional scene doesn't entirely ring true…And the play at times feels less like a developing narrative then a succession of whip-smart scenes illustrating variations on a theme...But it's hard to quibble with a play that remains so consistently intelligent, scathingly funny and even affecting in its understated way." Full Review

The Wall Street Journal

"'Smart People' is a sharp-edged satire, and Ms. Diamond’s ear for the foibles of her subjects is so precisely tuned as to make 'Clybourne Park' and 'Disgraced' look downright tone-deaf...But as funny as 'Smart People' is, it’s also quite deeply felt...The play’s the thing, and it’s a gem. Not only is 'Smart People' soundly constructed, but it’s intelligent and provocative enough to put you in mind of Tom Stoppard." Full Review

AM New York

"No overall storyline develops and very little occurs for two hours and 15 minutes. It’s hard to imagine the play appealing to an audience other than the academic types that it depicts. Leon draws shaded, believable performances from the quartet, but the play might have been more entertaining had he placed more emphasis on the humor in the script. It also may work better if cut down to 90 minutes." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"The play's impersonal, almost mechanical, construction makes it difficult to care most of the time…Many of the performances don't help, either…Despite these problems, 'Smart People' is never boring, and in it Diamond finds plenty of enlightenment and entertainment in the topics she tackles…There's no shaking a sense of disappointment that she wasn't willing to cut just a bit deeper." Full Review

New York Daily News

"As the comedy-drama 'Smart People' covers the combustible subject of racism, it delivers a couple of other undisputable truths. First, a play that’s topical isn’t necessarily illumininating. Second, an actor who has given solid performances on screen isn’t a sure thing on stage…It’s terrain worth exploring. But for every scene that comes alive with humor, there are two that turn didactic." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"During the overlong and talkie play 'Smart People,' I started to hear lectures and debates rather then dialogue and interactions...It’s as complicated as it sounds, and as angry and contrived as it feels...Under difference circumstances I would be very willing to accept these implausible connections, if the heart and the emotional core felt true. Sadly it doesn’t...It doesn’t matter how smart these people are, we need them to be real people as well." Full Review


"Diamond's characters come off mostly as very talkative issue-representatives. It's not that what they represent, isn't worth thinking about and what they say isn't often sharp and funny. It's just that it all comes off as too familiar and lacking in real depth, with Diamond's facility for snappy dialogue sabotaged by plot devices that too often smack of contrivance...'Smart People' ultimately disappoints because it could have been so much smarter." Full Review


"An uneven but clever and witty satire...While the play knows where it is going, it is not always obvious to the audience. 'Smart People,' however, is a clever, perceptive look at race in the work place and how it impinges on romantic relations in our private lives. Mahershala Ali, Joshua Jackson, Anne Son and Tessa Thompson are charismatic performers worth watching for in their future stage roles." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"I found the play somewhat unsatisfying. Diamond’s structure uses a lot of short, fragmentary scenes…The whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts…I felt that the sex scenes and the gratuitousl nudity were thrown in to grab the audience’s attention between didactic moments…The stunningly attractive cast make their characters lively…The direction by Kenny Leon seemed a bit slack. I do give the playwright credit for writing a play that is likely to provoke lively discussion." Full Review

The Wrap

" 'Confrontational People' would be a more apt title…Arguments are fine. Many fine plays have been built around them, but the quick repetition of them over the course of two and a half hours becomes numbing. In the first act, there are several vignettes, each of which carries the same weight under Kenny Leon‘s direction…Diamond means to say big things...Big ideas have a way of getting lost when people bicker." Full Review


"Topicality is the strongest asset Lydia R. Diamond’s play 'Smart People,' under Kenny Leon’s brisk direction, has going for it. Yes, Diamond’s work has some trenchant observations about race in America, But it’s much less smart, and far more muddled, than the author probably intended." Full Review


"There are racial and emotional land mines all around 'Smart People,' the provocative, sharply observed and shrewdly breezy new play...Directed with sly, stark sleekness, the serious comedy introduces disparate high-achievers who meet cute and cannot keep themselves from puncturing the relationships with sharp questions...Terrific acting and nuanced writing twist stereotypes into high-level thrills." Full Review


"'Smart People' is a patchwork quilt of a play, a mélange of scenes about race in America without a distinctive through-pattern. Much of it is quite diverting, although it falls short of compelling...Diamond essentially presents these characters as types, outfitted with qualities and attitudes, rather than as distinctive individuals. Their conversations can be very witty, while also seeming artificial...Maybe, 'Smart People' is just the kind of play that gets you thinking rather than feeling." Full Review

Act Three - The Reviews

"The most self-absorbed, un-interesting, and indulgent play by what can only be described as a bitter, angry, ivy-leaguer stuck in academia-land...Overall the actors were too loud, too flat, and seemed to be playing to the cameras...Do yourself a favor and skip 'Smart People.'" Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you enjoy mostly conversation-based theatre of ideas on intersectionality; open-ended plot; thoughtful writing & committed performances

Don't see it if you are offended by some explicit content (e.g. male nudity); you need closure and don't like shows that make you think

Also lydia diamond applies her sharp wit, humor, and insight (much enjoyed ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if you want to see a relevant play addressing racism, sexism, and privilege in a microcosm of these 4 characters.

Don't see it if you are uncomfortable talking about racism, sexism, or privilege. A few old white people walked out during the performance (super rude).

Clever, Intelligent, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if You can enjoy the acting and the dialogue separated out from the banal and cliched story.

Don't see it if the lack of realism in the supposedly realistic story is going to bug you. Nothing like real academia or life.

Ambitious, Resonant, Confusing

See it if A topical story with characters that are uninteresting and difficult to root for. The racial lesson was heavy-handed. I just didn't care.

Don't see it if A play about race with a very sporadic style of storytelling.

Smart observations, not a play

See it if you want to cheer on a smart & tender playwright tackling themes of how people behave, diversely, self-satisfied, & stressed by stereotypes

Don't see it if you're not OK with a very unfinished production (staging is pretty horrid: like a carwash bringing sets on and off stage on tracks).

Funny, Ambitious, Great acting, Relevant, Great writing

See it if A frank discussion on race executed deftly in the framework of a comedy with strong writing and performances appeals to you.

Don't see it if You've seen one too many race plays where the liberal white guy's point of view is prominent. (My only criticism of this show.)

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you like having your views challenged, you enjoy smart theater and don't mind seeing nudity.

Don't see it if you don't want to see Joshua Jackson in just his underware.

Funny, Original, Absorbing, Clever, Intelligent

See it if You like to see really smart, funny, thought provoking dramas with very good acting.

Don't see it if There is no reason not to see this, so good!

Ambitious not altogether successful play re racism/gender/personal identity laced with humor

See it if you enjoy intricate racially-charged mating dance for two couples, culminating in racial showdown; charismatic Mahershala Ali (houseofcards)

Don't see it if don't appreciate characters that are stand ins for ideas and a confusing effort to bring together too many meaty issues

Clever, Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great writing

See it if you want to explore racism from many different angles

Don't see it if You expect your dramas to have a plot

Ambitious, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if smart people espousing very smart ideas about race and class in America, over the heads of other characters and audience

Don't see it if you cannot follow four or more simultaneous, intense conversations talking at the same time. Overwrought but erudite

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Indulgent, Disappointing, Overrated

See it if you want to hear a smartly scripted conversation about race in America.

Don't see it if you're expecting fully formed characters or anything beyond a play of ideas.

Original, Quirky, Relevant, Disappointing, Good acting

See it if you want to see how someone might prove that racism is somehow inherent in the white population. Interesting premise. Not fully developed.

Don't see it if you have no interest in a play on racism from a somewhat novel point of view. Good ensemble work.

Ambitious, Clever, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You are deeply affected by race or enjoy plays as a format for a debate, rather than needing a coherent dramatic arc.

Don't see it if You are a stickler for "show, don't tell" in playwriting; you are emphatic that the characters must come before the message.

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if You enjoy plays that are up to the minute current and have significant messages that make you think. You are a fan of actor Josh Jackson !

Don't see it if You can't deal with some male nudity and being forced to think about your personal prejudices.

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you're in the mood for a thought-provoking play with some humor

Don't see it if you're not in the mood for a more serious play

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if you want a play that discusses race in a complex but funny way & doesn't shy away from uncomfortable situations & conversations.

Don't see it if you're disinterested in the analysis of race & racism or don't enjoy complex & often overly intellectual dialogue.

Funny, Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if for a provocative exploration of race (and gender) that's also quite funny and observant. But it does feel incomplete and not fully gelled.

Don't see it if you dislike dialogue-driven plays or don't want to think about racism in america

Funny, Ambitious, Clever, Great acting

See it if Enjoy intelligent, humorous dialogue about race with excellent acting

Don't see it if Aren't interested in the subject, object to talky plays with no action and not much of a set, and are looking for a satisfying ending

Excruciating, Schematic, underdeveloped, sluggish direction, poor acting,

See it if you enjoy seeing underdeveloped plays given a full production. Another misfire from Second Stage.

Don't see it if you are a smart person. This production is totally unsatisfying.

Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if you think lectures and debates make great theatre

Don't see it if you want your intellectualisms mixed with real emotionality and plot development.

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Resonant, Great writing

See it if you love great scripts with great actors following a great directors lead. Excellence abounds!

Don't see it if you dislike intense dialogue with strong usage of big words!

Ambitious, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if An absorbing play with great acting. Slightly uneven - great dialogue and premise, though a tad preachy at times, but always compelling,

Don't see it if You are not interested in plays about race relations, because this is powder keg of a play that will challenge what you think.

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Engaging

See it if you're up for yet another play about racism in America. Smart People is funny, engaging, provocative, and original.

Don't see it if you need less talk and more action in your theatre. This show is a bit long and pretty talky, but I enjoyed it.

Disappointing, Overrated, Slow

See it if You are very interested in shows that deal with races relations

Don't see it if Very slow, drawn out, staging was clever at 1st but became tired and repetitive especially in 2nd act. 2nd act failed to hold my attention

Cast & Creatives (12)