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Smart People

From 30 critic and 70 member reviews
Members say: Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent

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. More…

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.

The Root

"'Smart People' is exactly what you would expect it to be: smart, sexy and provocative...All four actors are brilliant, edgy and captivating in their respective roles...Yes, we’ve seen it done before: an intersection of characters whose lives all meet because of one single, focal point. However, it’s never been done before with such clever and amusing dialogue and a plot that is intelligently woven together." 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


"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

NY Theatre Guide

"Director Kenny Leon and writer Lydia R. Diamond deserve every accolade for this play...Perfect pacing so that the audience never feels bored or too overwrought by the seriousness of the matters being played out in front of them...'Smart People' is not just a 'smart' play but a wise one. It is an intellectual analysis on the 'intelligent,' and whether being smart is valuable if you are not good or kind in deed." 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


"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

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


"While none of the statements, jokes, and snappy comments made about race were particularly new and cutting, that is perhaps their beauty...It is largely artful, excepting some inevitable stumbles...The characters are all flawed and often unlikable, but this makes it feel all the more genuine...'Smart People' is wry and, well, smart. The end was perhaps too clean and it has its flaws, but the climax fight over dinner that brings everyone into the same room for the first time is spectacular." 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

Reviewing The Drama

"I was finding the well-written 'Smart People.' directed by Tony winner Kenny Leon, to be a little trite. I don't mean to dismiss the characters' points of view or Ms. Diamond's voice; I mean that the conversations sounded like ones I'd heard before. I was eager for a fresh perspective. Toward the end of the play, I got it." 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

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

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


"'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

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

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

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

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

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


"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

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

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

Center on the Aisle

"The topics Diamond addresses in 'Smart People'—race, gender, social and sexual politics—are all significant and relevant. Yet the play fails to completely engage the audience...The characters are so self-involved and self-important that they become blatantly unlikable…Cutting the work down to a more focused, easier-to-digest 90 minutes may have helped the medicine go down more easily. At end of play, Brian concludes, “Life sucks.” Do we really need Lydia R. Diamond to tell us that?" Full Review

Absorbing, Clever, Funny, Intelligent, Original

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!

Clever, Absorbing, Funny, 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.

Absorbing, Funny, Great writing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to leave a show with a million thoughts rushing through your head, and also have a fun and enjoyable evening.

Don't see it if You get uncomfortable talking about race, or don't want to think about the show once you've left the theatre.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Great acting, Intelligent

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).

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Edgy, Relevant

See it if you like dialogue-heavy plays that deal with important issues whilst still being funny.

Don't see it if you don't like plays about social/political issues, or if you prefer more traditional structure.

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Funny, 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.

Absorbing, Edgy, Great writing, Great acting, Resonant

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!

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.

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Great acting, 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

See it if great small group acting

Don't see it if closing sunday

Clever, Indulgent, Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Relevant

See it if you enjoy lots of quick dialogue, political discussions, dissecting race relations

Don't see it if you don't want to be mentally challenged, you're looking for carefree fluffy entertainment.

Ambitious, Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Relevant

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.)

Funny, Great acting, Ambitious, Clever

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

Clever, Intelligent, Raunchy, Relevant, Edgy

See it if you'd love to discuss race in the country today.

Don't see it if you're too young -- some inappropriate material for under 17.

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

Ambitious, Engaging, Thought-provoking

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.

Ambitious, Disappointing, Indulgent, Relevant, Long-winded

See it if You enjoy plays that make you think about race and how it defines your actions and reactions. You enjoy seeing TV actors on stage

Don't see it if You don't like wordy plays with a lot of dialogue and very little actual action. Situations that are somewhat contrived and not believable

Original, Quirky, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Confusing

See it if You are open to some interesting opinions that you may not agree with, presented by excellent actors.

Don't see it if You don't care for a talky evening with a disappointing ending

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

See it if You have an open mind to hot topics, politics, and identity relations

Don't see it if you are offended easily

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Edgy, Intelligent

See it if You enjoy thought provoking new work with challenging subject matter. Sparse but deliberate staging, well cast.

Don't see it if You are looking for a light piece or don't want to think about how we conceptualize and handle race in everyday life.

Ambitious, Edgy, Indulgent

See it if you love Joshua Jackson

Don't see it if you don't want to be uncomfortable

Clever, Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Ambitious

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.

Cast & Creatives (12)