Let me introduce all you smart people to Lydia Diamond’s provocative new play Smart People. Lydia is one of the most gifted writers of her generation. Smart People is an intellectual, emotional and erotic wrestling match among four souls in an Ivy League college town very much like New Haven. Race has been the most significantly constant theme in American history. It would be difficult to claim that the present moment is the most divisive in our history having survived a civil war and the race riots of the 1960s. However, certainly, our conflicts over race remain painfully in the forefront of our national conversation. And gender perception, rendered often somewhat more subtlety in our national and personal dialogue, remains in the front of the battle lines of our national and personal conflicts.
Where the personal and the political meet is where Smart People lives. Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me goes the school yard retort. Never has a well-known epigram been so patently false. Bones that break will heal in time. But verbal cruelty can break hearts for a lifetime. And everyone reading this has known many times that they have been hurt accidentally by another’s careless words and concomitantly every one reading this remembers times that they themselves have injured others inadvertently by something they said.
When it comes to race and gender and politics, the land is covered with mines, and the mines are exploding all the time. Our national and college politics are battlegrounds of misunderstanding, offense, and rage over the words we choose and the iconography we love. The semiotics of our every gesture and sentence can explode with shrapnel injuring all concerned. The name of a residential college at Yale, rules of engagement on a date, nativity scenes, the Confederate flag, and so many more have been calls to arms in our volatile times.
Smart People is a look at our new world from the perspective of four intelligent and educated people in conflict and in close personal relations. Listen as closely as you can. Test your own intellectual and emotional responses to our quartet of smart people.
- Gordon Edelstein