In a pre-Obama era, four young professionals in a Cambridge Community find themselves intertwined and dealing with situations related to sex, race and politics.

Smart People, a play by Lydia R. Diamond, could not have been more perfectly timed. Here we are, at the culmination of Barack Obama’s presidency and along comes a play that is set on the eve of his ascendancy into the White House. The play’s director, Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun, The Wiz Live!), tells our entertainment correspondent Patrick L. Riley that Smart People is “set the year before Obama becomes president and it’s about race and sex and politics.” Leon is a Tony-award winning director who worked on Broadway’s Stick Fly with Diamond.

Video: Patrick L. Riley of 'Life of Riley' catches up with the cast to find out about Smart People


Smart People is loaded with talent. The play stars four powerhouse actors – Tessa Thompson (Creed), Joshua Jackson (The Affair), Anne Son (My Generation) and Mahershala Ali.

Ali, who currently stars as Remy Danton on the award-winning Netflix original series House of Cards envisions this as “an era that will be written about quite a bit.” He continues to opine that Obama’s “status will be heightened over time because of the things he was able to achieve during his time in office.”

It was after Diamond heard how plays about race were being discussed, that she decided to pen Smart People. She offers, “of course when it’s not a black writer writing about race, it is this far away intellectual conversation, but soon as you tackle it it becomes almost like an axe to grind.” Diamond adds, “I wanted to rise to that challenge and make this play that elevated the conversation and then Obama got elected.”

Actress Tessa Thompson who plays Valerie, a recent Harvard graduate was drawn to Smart People because of the Leon-Diamond, writer-director dynamic duo and had this to say, “I just loved their collaboration together with Stick Fly, I thought that it was so funny and witty and touching and so I’ve long wanted to work with Kenny and also wanted to work with Lydia, I just love the work that they do.”

In the play, Joshua Jackson, most recently know for his work on the Showtime series, The Affair, plays a Harvard neuroscience professor who “is building a thesis around racial dynamics, racial politics in the U.S. at that time.” His character Brian wants badly to prove disparities related to African Americans. Interestingly enough, he is white. The actor goes on to add his personal feelings about the realistic chances of Obama becoming president, “quite a lot of people, and I would have to say myself included, didn’t think that Obama could be elected, simply because they [I] didn’t think that America was ready.”

Smart People is poised to serve as a catalyst for the conversation of race, “in a post-Obama time, where we feel like our conversations about race have sort of moved forward or even past conversations about race,” shares Selma’s Tessa Thompson. “I thought it was nice to get to take an inventory on how far we’ve come, how far we need to go by looking back at a time that was pre-Obama.”

Get ready for Smart People.

Smart People is now playing at Second Stage Theatre’s Tony Kiser Theatre (305 West 43rd street); DailyCommune readers get $45 tickets with code ‘WICG.’