May 11 – 28, 2023
written by Lydia R. Diamond
“…funny, observant and biting.” —Denver Post
“The playwright puts this incendiary topic in a realistic context, and addresses it in a refreshingly honest manner.” —Variety
“…puts race under a comic microscope.” —Washington Post
A Provocative and Humorous Exposé on the Nature of Prejudice.
Four intelligent, attractive and opinionated Harvard-associated professionals search for love, success and identity while attempting to navigate the intricacies of racial and sexual politics in this whip-smart new play.
Through bright, funny dialogue and fast-paced vignettes, playwright Lydia Diamond brings her quartet of complicated characters to vibrant life.
Jackson, a young African-American surgical resident, who struggles to get along with his superiors, tires himself out running a clinic for uninsured patients.
Ginny, an academic psychologist of Japanese-Chinese heritage, at the extreme end of self-assuredness, studies Asian-American women’s reactions to stress.
Brian, a properly smart and smug White neuroscientist is running into career roadblocks researching the brain’s responses to race and its societal implications.
Valerie, an African-American actor, pays her rent by cleaning houses and working as Brian’s research assistant.
Challenge your assumptions. Step outside your comfort zone. See things from a different perspective. Schedule time to see this play, right away!
Valerie Johnston, an actor, meets discrimination and type-casting in her theatrical career. She pays rent by cleaning houses and working as a research assistant. Played by Bethiah Benson
Jackson Moore is a surgical intern who struggles with white supervisors disparaging his decisions. He runs a clinic for low-income people in Chinatown. Played by Keene Hudson
Ginny Yang is a prickly, self-assured psychology professor with a shopping habit studying patterns of self-limiting behavior in Asian American women. Played by Jenni Kim-Etimos
Brian White is a Harvard professor of neuroscience. His recent study has found that a negative response to racial differences is hardwired into the human brain. Played by Marcus Peterson-Spain
Creating Characters this Smart…Requires a Brilliant Playwright
Smart People Playwright Lydia R. Diamond has won numerous national awards for her craft, including the Lorraine Hansberry Award for Best Writing, a fitting honor, as Ms. Hansberry was one of Diamond’s favorite and most influential writers. A Raisin in the Sun changed Diamond’s life.
Diamond grew up as a reader in an artistic home and went to Northwestern University to study acting but shifted her focus to playwriting while there. She began producing her own plays and formed a theatre company in Chicago, where her first play, Solitaire, received awards and acclaim.
After relocating to Boston with her husband, who had gotten a teaching post at Harvard, The Huntington Theatre chose Diamond for the Playwriting Fellows program in 2006. The Boston theatre company, Company One, then produced her adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel , “The Bluest Eye,” in 2007 and her play, Voyeurs de Venus, in 2008. Alicia Keys produced her well-known play, Stick Fly, which premiered on Broadway in 2011.
Writing Smart People took Diamond eight years. Three years into it, Obama won the presidential election, changing how Americans talk and think about race. Diamond had to look at those things with an open mind and raise the play’s stakes, which changed everything about what the play had originally wanted to be.
In 2014 Smart People premiered in Boston at the Huntington Theatre Company. Since then, it has played at Second Stage in NYC, Arena Stage in Washington D.C. and Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, Il.
Diamond is clear that she is “communicating with an American audience and that we come to the table with all of our hang-ups about race, sexuality and class. I want my writing to always be entertaining and not didactic.”
Diamond’s work has been performed at companies including American Conservatory Theatre Company, Steppenwolf Theatre Co., The Alliance Theatre, The Guthrie Theater and Roundabout Theatre Co. (off-Broadway), to name but a few. Her resume is full of honorary degrees from esteemed schools, dozens of writing awards and teaching credentials. Recently, she has also written for Showtime, NBC, HBO, HBOMAX and Hulu.
Bethiah Benson (Valerie Johnston) is a Bay Area actress and model. Her resume includes a range of both local and national commercials, print campaigns, tv, and film. She is also a singer-songwriter, and musical producer; going by singer stage name March Angel, and holding her own record label, FPB Records. She studied Opera while at U.C. Davis, and also trained under renowned vocal coach Dr. Helen Stevens. Notably, she has released her self-titled EP “B”, followed by the release of her single, “Only Us”; winning “Best Music Video” in the Cannes World Festival and Semi-finalist in the L.A Film awards.
Keene Hudson (Jackson Moore) is returning to acting after working in health care for 20 years. He most recently appeared in Hair and Little Shop of Horrors at 6th Street Playhouse and in Top Dog, Underdog as Lincoln and Coriolanus as Aufidius. Keene studied Theatre at Princeton University, and received an MA in Film from Columbia College, Chicago. He recently studied at the Beverly Hills Playhouse school of acting in San Francisco. Keene lives in Sebastopol, CA with his wife and 10 year old son, and has a stepson and stepdaughter attending Humboldt State.
Jenni Kim-Etimos (Ginny Yang) makes her on-stage debut as Ginny Yang. After leaving a career in teaching to pursue acting, Jenni has worked on-screen and in voiceover for commercials, film and television in the Bay Area. Jenni trains at The Meisner Technique Studio and Voicetrax San Francisco. A Sonoma County native, Jenni graduated from Maria Carrillo High School. After earning her BA at UC San Diego, she returned to Sonoma County and is raising her family here, in Santa Rosa.
Marcus Peterson-Spain (Brian White) is excited to make his 6th Street debut as Brian. Actor and director for over 20 years on stage, TV, & film; career highlights: Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Ross in Macbeth (Off-Broadway), John Brown in BOOTH: The Musical (Off-Broadway), and finalist for membership to the Actors’ Studio, NYC. He is a professional coach and teacher in acting, has a private practice as a transformational and trauma coach (www.selexano.com). Thanks to my friends and family for their support and to my other half, Daniel—for being the love of my life.
Smart People Story
“It is important that the play feel like an invitation to all of us to own the conversation. We can laugh and not feel uncomfortable because we know that we are all equally uncomfortable; it is why we go to the theatre — to laugh, and squirm, and be challenged and affirmed.”—Playwright, Lydia R. Diamond
Playwright Lydia R. Diamond set this four-person play in 2008, putting the illusion of a post-racial America under a microscope through the eyes of her exceptionally smart characters, all associated with Harvard University. The result is a work fueled with provocative tension and dynamic comedy. Each scene is bold and fearless in the way it talks about race, but is also funny and quirky with very human characters. It is more an exploration of relationships than of social science.
The play begins with each character revealing their stories in an isolated vignette, talking to their students, their supervisors, directors and colleagues. Then, they begin to interact. As their relationships evolve, the four discover that their motivations and interpretations are not as clear as their superior knowledge would have them believe.
Brian White is a Harvard professor of neuroscience. His recent study has found that a negative response to racial differences is hardwired into the human brain.
Jackson Moore, Brian’s quick-tempered best friend, is a surgical intern who struggles with white supervisors disparaging his decisions. He also runs a clinic for low-income people in Chinatown.
Actor, Valerie Johnson, meets discrimination and type-casting in her theatrical career. She encounters Jackson in the emergency room. The chemistry between them sizzles, but sparks fly when the two Black characters clash because of ingrained attitudes of classism, racism and sexism.
Ginny Yang is a prickly psychology professor with a shopping habit who is studying patterns of self-limiting behavior in Asian American women. She meets Brian while on a Harvard panel for “minority matriculation, retention and recruitment,” and the two enter into an edgy relationship.
In Smart People, Diamond shows that no matter how well we think we understand the influence of race on human interaction, it still gets in the way of genuine communication and connection.
However uncomfortable, we need to keep trying.