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Event Calendar

Smart People

By Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Seema Sueko

April 14 — May 21, 2017
Kreeger Theater

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.

Smart People is generously sponsored by R. Lucia Riddle. Additional support is provided in memory of Toni A. Ritzenberg.

Cast

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 Woman (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

Creative

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.

MISHA KACHMAN (Scenic Designer) has worked at Arena Stage, Asolo Repertory, Center Stage, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Kennedy Center, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Opera Lafayette, Opera Royal Versailles, Portland Center Stage, Round House, Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, Signature Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, Studio Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Theater J, Wilma Theater and Woolly Mammoth, among many other companies in the United States and abroad. He is a company member at Woolly Mammoth and an associate artist at Olney Theatre Center. Misha is a Helen Hayes Award recipient and a graduate of the St. Petersburg Theatre Arts Academy. He serves as the associate professor of scene and costume design and head of M.F.A. in design at University of Maryland.

DEDE M. AYITE (Costume Designer)’s Off-Broadway credits include Marie & Rosetta (Atlantic Theater Company); The Royale (Lincoln Center); Ugly Lies the Bone (Roundabout); brownsville song (b-side for tray) (LCT3); and ToasT, Urban Retreat and Manahatta (The Public). Regional credits include The Last Tiger in Haiti (La Jolla, Berkeley Repertory); Bella: An American Tall Tale and Stagger Lee (Dallas Theater Center); The Wiz (Oregon Shakespeare); Between Riverside and Crazy (Studio Theatre); The Blood Quilt and Five Guys Named Moe (Arena Stage); Marie Antoinette (Steppenwolf); The CA Lyons Project (Alliance Theatre); A Raisin in the Sun (California Shakespeare Theater); The Piano Lesson (Yale Repertory); The Music Man in Concert (Two River Theater, NJPAC); and Fried Chicken & Latkes (National Black Theatre). TV credits include Comedy Central; Fox Shortcoms (FOX Network); and COPPER Project (Improv Everywhere/BBC America). M.F.A. Yale School of Drama.

XAVIER PIERCE (Lighting Designer)’s Off-Broadway credits include Yours Unfaithfully and A Day by the Sea (Mint Theatre) and Emmet Down in My Heart (Castillo Theatre). Regional credits include Harvey (The Guthrie); Fences (California Shakespeare Theater, Long Wharf, McCarter Theatre); Mountaintop (Playmakers Repertory, Triad Stage); Red and Common Enemy (Triad Stage); A Raisin in the Sun (Westport Country Playhouse); Two Trains Running (Arden Theatre Company); Intimate Apparel, Peter and the Starcatcher, Detroit ’67 and 4,000 Miles (Playmakers Repertory); and Fly (Florida Studio Theatre). National and international tour credits include DRUMLINE LIVE! He has received a Handy Award for Best Lighting, Thomas C. Fichandler Award for Excellence in Lighting, Marvin Sims Fellowship at the Kennedy Center and was an Allen Lee Hughes Lighting Design Fellow.

ANDRE PLUESS (Sound Designer)’s Broadway credits include 33 Variations, I Am My Own Wife and Metamorphoses. Regional credits include Victory Gardens, Berkeley Repertory, Oregon Shakespeare, Lookingglass Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, La Jolla Playhouse, Goodman, Shakespeare Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theater, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Arena Stage, Yale Repertory, Lincoln Center, McCarter Theatre and California Shakespeare Festival. Awards include multiple Joseph Jefferson Awards and Citations, Ovation Award, Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Barrymore Award, Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel nominations for composition and sound design.

JARED MEZZOCCHI (Projections Designer) received the 2012 Princess Grace Theater Fellowship as the first projections designer to receive the honor. He is a company member at Woolly Mammoth, most recently having designed Women Laughing Alone with Salad. D.C. credits include Intelligence (Arena Stage), Yellow Face (Theater J), Astro Boy and the God of Comics (Studio Theatre) and BELL (National Geographic). New York credits include Vietgone (MTC); Downtown Loop (3-Legged Dog); You Are Dead. You Are Here. (HERE Arts Center); and JET LAG 2011 (The Builders Association). Regional credits include Milwaukee Repertory, Cleveland Play House, Center Stage and The Wilma. He has designed for Big Art Group at the Vienna Festival (Europe, Canada and U.S. tour), Connect4Climate, Alcantara (Design Week, Milan) and the atrium of the World Bank in D.C. Jared teaches at The University of Maryland.

ANNE NESMITH (Wig Designer) returns to Arena Stage, where her design credits include A Raisin in the Sun, Watch on the Rhine, Carousel, The Little Foxes, All the Way, Oliver!, Destiny of Desire, Fiddler on the Roof, Mother Courage and Her Children, and The Music Man. Her recent work includes Titanic (Signature Theatre), La Boheme and L’Opera Seria (Wolf Trap), Cosi fan tutte (Nishinomiya, Japan) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Ford’s Theatre). Her designs have been seen at the Kennedy Center, Opera Philadelphia, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington Ballet and Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan. Anne was the resident wig/makeup designer for the Baltimore Opera and has created wigs for Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery programs, Investigation Discovery’s Ice Cold Killers, Maryland Public Television and the U.S. Army’s tour Spirit of America.

ZACH CAMPION (Vocal Coach) is a freelance voice, speech and dialect coach and former education manager at Studio Theatre. D.C. credits include dialect coach for Hand to God (six Helen Hayes nominations), Chimerica, Terminus (Helen Hayes nomination) and Between Riverside and Crazy (Studio Theatre); the world premiere of The Gulf (Helen Hayes nomination, Signature Theatre); Dial M for Murder and Sweeney Todd (Olney Theatre Center); Angels in America Part 1 and 2 (Helen Hayes nomination, Round House); and the upcoming My Fair Lady (Olney Theatre Center). Zach is a certified teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework© and is a member of the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory faculty. He received his M.F.A in theater pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University and his B.F.A. in performance and production from Texas State University. www.voicecoachdc.com

KURT HALL (Stage Manager)’s Arena Stage credits include Watch on the Rhine, Carousel, The Year of Magical Thinking starring Kathleen Turner, Born for This, All the Way, Sweat, Destiny of Desire, The Blood Quilt, Our War, The Shoplifters, Smokey Joe’s Café, Mother Courage and Her Children starring Kathleen Turner, Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life, Good People, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins starring Kathleen Turner, The Normal Heart, Red, Ruined, every tongue confess starring Phylicia Rashad, Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, Looped starring Valerie Harper, Next to Normal starring Alice Ripley, Awake and Sing! and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia. Additional regional credits at the Kennedy Center, Roundabout Theatre Company, McCarter Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company and Signature Theatre. Thanks to his family for all their support.

KRISTEN MARY HARRIS (Assistant Stage Manager) is thrilled to be part of this production at Arena Stage. Favorite Arena Stage credits include The Little Foxes, Disgraced, The Blood Quilt, Fiddler on the Roof, Mother Courage and Her Children, Red, The Normal Heart and Oklahoma! (Helen Hayes Award). Additional D.C. credits include Road Show, The Threepenny Opera, Miss Saigon, and the world premieres of Kid Victory and Crossing (Signature Theatre) and A Christmas Carol (Ford’s Theatre). Kristen holds a B.F.A. in theater production from the University of Arizona.

MEET SEEMA SUEKO

We caught up with Seema Sueko — Deputy Artistic Director at Arena Stage — to discuss what most excites her about this new role and the “explosively relevant” new play Smart People.

First, welcome to Arena Stage. We are so happy that you are here as Arena Stage’s new Deputy Artistic Director. Please introduce yourself. What is your personal background in the theater / what drew you to working in the arts?

Thank you! I, too, am extremely happy to be part of the Arena Stage tribe.

A little background on me: Throughout my career I have focused on two overarching goals: artistic excellence that creates space for all communities to engage with our art form and pioneering new methodologies and models of theater to build thriving organizations.

I started as an actor in Chicago. After working all over the country, my husband, Troy Hirsch, and I landed in San Diego, where he is a Sports Anchor for KSWB-TV. There, I founded Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, a community-focused, socially-conscious, Equity theatre company. I created the Green Theater Choices Toolkit and Consensus Organizing for Theater methodology here and shifted from acting to directing. In 2013, I received the inaugural and coveted Leadership U[niversity] grant from Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and the Andrew Mellon Foundation to be in residence at Arena Stage as a Visiting Artistic Associate. I went on to become associate artistic director at The Pasadena Playhouse, and now, I am excited to be back at Arena Stage in this new capacity.

As Deputy Artistic Director at Arena Stage, what excites you most about this new role?

I make theater to build successful communities. I am especially excited to work closely with Artistic Director Molly Smith to advance audiences, artists and Arena Stage. Further, everyone on staff at Arena is incredibly creative, smart and the best in the field. It’s inspiring and motivating to be a part of this team. And, of course, I love the artistic work and education programs here.

You will also direct the Spring 2017 production of Smart People. Tell us a little bit about what drew you to this project? Why do you think this particular play is important to our audiences?

I love this play. When I first read it, I could see instantly why Molly thought of me to direct it. It deals with topics I am fascinated with and passionate about: neuroscience and race. (Last year, I partnered with a Professor of Psychiatry at University of California San Diego to do a study on the neuroscience of acting, exploring what impact the act of acting has on the brain).

Smart People is a comic drama about four very smart people – a white neuropsychiatrist, an Asian-American Psychology Professor, an African-American surgical intern, and an African-American actress – who are all fighting to be seen and seeking to be loved, but the science, sex and race get in the way.

This play is explosively relevant to the moment we are living in where we seem to be a nation at war with itself around race and many of us struggle to understand why. Further, when we produce the play in April 2017, we’ll be four months into a new administration in the White House, and this play will serve as an interesting prism to refract our experiences today against this backdrop of the 2008 elections.

This play presents challenging ideas and philosophies. What do you hope audiences’ reactions will be to the play when they leave the theater?

I hope their minds and hearts are robust with thoughts and questions about what it means to live in America in this moment … and what does their brain think of all that.

What is your favorite play or musical production?

Oh – that’s a tough question. I love so many plays and musicals. I’m about to direct The Fantasticks at The Pasadena Playhouse, so that show is quite forward in my mind right now. I also really loved Camp David. My graduate degree from University of Chicago was in International Relations with a focus on Middle East politics and so that play drew together my passions for theatre, middle east politics and community-building.

Events

Post-Show Discussions
April 26 at 12:00 p.m.
May 2 at 7:30 p.m.
May 9 at 12:00 p.m.
May 10 at 12:00 p.m.
May 18 at 8:00 p.m.

Accessibility

Audio Described

Saturday, May 20 at 2:00 p.m.

Open Captioned

Thursday, May 11 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 13 at 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Smart People illustration by Mark Ulriksen.