Monday, May 01, 2017

"Smart People" at Arena Stage

I went to see "Smart People" Friday, and when I tried to talk to some friends about it Saturday, it was hard to find a balance between the serious issues of race in America that the play covers, and yet also how fricking hilarious it was. There are four characters, Valerie, Jackson, Ginny, and Brian and their lives intersect in many ways until there is a final dinner party involving all four where things get really real.  There are also many moments where the characters interact with someone offstage, a feat of both writing and acting that it managed to seem normal, and I felt like I fully understood the unsaid parts of the interaction. The play is set specifically during the 2007-2008 period, which includes to the election in which we elected Obama.  At first this felt a little unnecessary, the characters do talk some about the election, but on reflection, I see that setting it specifically in time allowed it to stay there, rather than have it feel strange that they didn't acknowledge whatever future political things might come.  
Brian is a white professor studying implicit bias, aka, the inherent reactions white people have to black people.  He has gone from being the golden boy professor to having funding pulled, and being asked to teach classes he feels are beneath his skills.  Ginny is an Asian American professor who meets Brian when they get put on the same diversity council.  She is studying third generation Asian Americans and as such wants to work with Jackson who runs a clinic in Chinatown. Jackson is black, and runs a clinic but is also a surgeon at a fancier hospital where he is running into issues with upper management.  He is basketball buddies with Brian.  And he meets Valerie, who is an up and coming actress, when she has an accident on set and ends up in the ER.  Valerie is also black and ends up volunteering for Brian's study.  The characters overlap and intersect more than that as they date, fight, hang out, and try to figure out how to just live their lives. 
It is the kind of play I think would be perfect to go to with friends that you know would have a great conversation with you afterwords, even if all you did was name your favoritest parts.