Intelligent Quartet of Actors Tapped for SMART PEOPLE at Arena Stage
Four intellectuals - a doctor, an actress, a psychologist and a neurobiologist studying the human brain's response to race - search for love, acceptance and identity in Lydia R. Diamond's comedy-drama Smart People, which makes its D.C. debut at Arena Stage.
Set against the backdrop of Obama's 2008 election, Diamond's fiercely funny play explores the unavoidable nature of cultural bias. Deputy Artistic Director Seema Sueko makes her Arena Stage directorial debut with this "sexy, serious and very, very funny modern-day comedy of manners" (Variety). Smart People runs April 14-May 21, 2017 in the Kreeger Theater.
The four-person cast features Lorene Chesley (La Jolla Playhouse's Memphis) as Valerie Johnston, Gregory Perri (Broadway's Good People) as BrIan White, Sue Jin Song (Manhattan Theatre Club's The World of Extreme Happiness) as Ginny Yang and Jaysen Wright (Studio Theatre's Choir Boy) as Jackson Moore.
"I am a big fan of Lydia Diamond, and Smart People is one of the smartest plays I've encountered in recent years," says Artistic Director Molly Smith. "What a fascinating play to produce now, a few months into a new administration that is quite the opposite of the one featured in this play. Lydia's play will take on new meaning in the current era of fake news. Seema Sueko will definitely lead this talented cast to an insightful performance."
"Smart People is a smart, complex, nuanced play that explores the science and psychology of racism and implicit bias through the lens of four smart people who are fighting to be seen and seeking to be loved," shares Sueko. "At times this play is explosive and at other times it's laugh out loud funny. As you can imagine, casting actors who have the depth, range, humor and passion is critical to the success of this show. I have found that in Gregory, Sue Jin, Jaysen and Lorene. I am excited to dive into the rehearsal room with these excellent artists."
"I am honored that Arena Stage is producing Smart People," adds Diamond. "Arena has made itself an artistic home for me again and again, from play development, a commission, residency and now two productions-this sort of long-term investment is the key to empowering writers to do what we do, as well and prolifically as possible. Seema's sophisticated and culturally relevant voice is perfect for the stewardship of this play, a story that wants desperately to be in conversation with this city, in this country, at this time."
The creative team for Smart People includes Set Designer Misha Kachman, Costume Designer Dede M. Ayite, Lighting Designer Xavier Pierce, Sound Designer Andre Pluess, Projection Designer Jared Mezzocchi, Wig Designer Anne Nesmith, Vocal Coach Zach Campion, Dramaturg Paul Adolphsen, Stage Manager Kurt Hall and Assistant Stage Manager Kristen Mary Harris.
Do our belief systems stem from our environment, or are some prejudices hard-wired into us? With barbed wit, Lydia R. Diamond (Stick Fly) explores the unavoidable nature of cultural bias and other sticky subjects in the controversial and fiercely funny new play Smart People. Four intellectuals-a doctor, an actress, a psychologist, and a neurobiologist studying the human brain's response to race-search for love, acceptance and identity in a complex world where political correctness comes face-to-face with cold hard data.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Lydia R. Diamond (Playwright) is a 2013/14 Arena Stage resident playwright. Award-winning plays include Smart People, Stick Fly, Voyeurs de Venus, The Bluest Eye, The Gift Horse, Harriet Jacobs, The Inside and Stage Black. Theaters include Broadway's Cort Theatre, The Arden, Chicago Dramatists, Company One, Congo Square, Goodman, Guthrie, Hartford Stage, Huntington, Jubilee, Kansas City Repertory, Long Wharf, Lorraine Hansberry, McCarter, Mo`olelo, MPAACT, New Vic, Playmakers Repertory, Plowshares, Second Stage, Steppenwolf and True Colors. Commissions from Arena Stage, Steppenwolf, McCarter, Huntington, Center Stage, Victory Gardens and Roundabout. Lydia was a W.E.B. Du Bois Institute non-resident fellow, TCG/NEA playwright-in-residence at Steppenwolf, Huntington playwright fellow, Sundance Institute Playwright Lab creative advisor, Radcliffe Institute fellow and serves on the Dramatists Guild Legal Defense Fund Board of Directors. She is a Northwestern University graduate and has an honorary doctorate of arts from Pine Manor College.
Seema Sueko (Director) joined the Arena Stage staff in July 2016 as deputy artistic director. She previously served as associate artistic director at The Pasadena Playhouse and executive artistic director of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego. Her directing and acting credits include The Pasadena Playhouse, People's Light, The Old Globe, San Diego Repertory, La Jolla Playhouse, Yale Repertory, 5th Avenue Theatre, Native Voices and Mo`olelo, among others. As a playwright, she received commissions from Mixed Blood Theatre and Center Stage. Her work has been recognized by the California State Assembly, NAACP San Diego Branch, San Diego Theatre Critics Circle, Chicago Jeff Awards, American Theatre Wing and American Theatre magazine. Seema serves on the Diversity Committee of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.
Lorene Chesley (Valerie Johnston) makes her Arena Stage debut. A native of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Lorene grew up studying ballet and tap but quickly segued her love for performance into acting. Stage credits include Cassandra in The American Women (Pasadena Playhouse), Delilah in Memphis (La Jolla Playhouse) and Claudia in The Bluest Eye (Mo'olelo/Moxie Theatre). TV credits include Perception (TNT), Shameless (Showtime) and The Fosters (Freeform). She recently wrapped the first season of her YouTube talk show Looks, Lunch, Love with Lorene. She studied theater at Temple University and earned an M.F.A. in acting at UCSD. Lorene would like to thank her family and friends for their love, support and nurturing her passion for theater.
Gregory Perri (BrIan White) is thrilled to be making his Arena Stage debut. Notable New York credits include Good People (Manhattan Theatre Club), A Loss of Roses (Peccadillo Theater Company), Lovers (T.A.C.T) and The Idea of Me (Cherry Lane Theatre). Regional credits include performances at The Whipping Man (Syracuse Stage), Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare on the Sound), Othello (The Stratford Summer Festival) and The Most Happy Fella (The Cider Mill Playhouse), among others. Film/TV credits include Not Fade Away, The Wolf of Wall Street, All is Bright, Market Trip, Bastards of Young, The Good Wife, The Jack and Triumph Show and the upcoming independent feature Thinking with Richard, among others. He received his M.F.A. from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
Sue Jin Song (Ginny Yang) returns to Arena Stage after appearing in Hot 'n' Throbbing. Off-Broadway credits include The World of Extreme Happiness (Manhattan Theatre Club) and Iphigenia at Aulis and Exit the King (Pearl Theater). D.C. theater credits include Marie Antoinette (Woolly Mammoth), Yellow Face (Theater J) and 36 Views (Constellation Theatre Company). Regional theater credits include A Christmas Carol (McCarter); Waiting for Tadashi (George Street Playhouse); Shedding the Tiger (Sacramento Theatre Company); and Burn This (Syracuse Stage). Film/TV credits include Steel Town, Pipe Dream, Someone Like You, 24, ER and Law & Order. She earned her M.F.A in acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She received The Best of Fringe Award for her one-woman show, Children of Medea, at the D.C. Fringe Festival and is a Usual Suspect at NYTW.
Jaysen Wright (Jackson Moore) makes his Arena Stage debut. D.C. credits include A Christmas Carol (Ford's Theatre); The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Looking for Roberto Clemente (Imagination Stage); Sons of the Prophet (Theater J); Now Comes the Night and Take Me Out (1st Stage); Choir Boy and The Rocky Horror Show (Studio Theatre); Pinkalicious and 12 Days of Christmas (Adventure Theatre); Carolina Layaway Grail (The Welders); and Measure for Measure, Wallenstein and Coriolanus (Shakespeare Theatre Company). Upcoming productions include Tarell Alvin McCraney's Wig Out! (Studio Theatre) and The Wiz (Ford's Theatre). Instagram: @thejayceface. www.jaysenwright.com
For full company bios, visit arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/productions/smart-people.
Tickets for Smart People are $40-90, subject to change and based on availability, plus applicable fees. For information on savings programs such as pay-your-age tickets, student discounts, Southwest Nights and hero's discounts, visit arenastage.org/shows-tickets/single-tickets/savings-programs. Tickets may be purchased online at arenastage.org by phone at 202-488-3300 or at the Sales Office at 1101 Sixth St., SW, D.C.
PERFORMANCE DATES: Sunday, Tuesday & Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday at 2:00 p.m.Weekday matinees at noon on Wednesday, 4/26; Tuesday, 5/9; & Wednesday, 5/10. Full calendar at tickets.arenastage.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=23107. Audio-described performances: 5/20 at 2:00 p.m. Open-captioned performances: 5/11 at 8:00 p.m., 5/13 at 2:00 p.m. & 5/17 at 7:30 p.m.
Post-Show Conversations: Connect with our shows beyond the performance at a post-show conversation with artists and staff-April 26, May 9 and May 10 following the noon performance; May 2 following the 7:30 p.m. performance; and May 18 following the 8:00 p.m. performance.
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Director Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacts the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its seventh decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000. Visit arenastage.org for more.