Once again, my friend Adam Crowe stands in as guest reviewer (should I say, staff member Adam Crowe?) for another of IRT’s offerings, which I sadly had to miss:
Many theaters seem to feel pressure to produce what some might think of as “Black” plays in the month of February, in honor of Black History Month. This trend has been a gift and a curse. These theaters have gifted audiences with opportunities to see terrific shows like A Raisin in the Sun, or the brilliant works of August Wilson. On the curse side, it has allowed some theaters to forget the other 11 months of the year.
My mind pondered this and other questions, as I prepared to spend a beautiful Spring afternoon visiting the Atlanta Georgia of 1973, courtesy of Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Indianapolis Premier of Pearl Cleage’s What I Learned In Paris. An African American cast of five brings Cleage’s story of an historic mayoral election to vibrant life. I mention the author’s (and actors’) ethnicity because it ISN’T February, and because the play itself – while clearly grounded in the life experiences of black men and women in the early 1970s – is so wonderfully universal. And FUNNY! Over two Acts, Cleage tells the story of some (fictional) folks orbiting the (real) election of Atlanta’s first African American Mayor, Maynard Jackson. But make no mistake – this is not a play that focuses on politics – unless you count the sexual variety.
J.P. Madison (David Alan Anderson) is an advisor to the new Mayor, hoping to become Atlanta’s City attorney. His new wife Ann (LeKeisha Randle) and his campaign mates John Nelson (Cedric Mays) and Lena Jefferson (Tracey N. Bonner) are awash in the excitement and historical significance of the moment. Into this mix walks Evie Madison (Erika LaVonn), J.P.’s ex-wife and the center of this glorious rumination on love, marriage, personhood, and pursuit of true happiness. Cleage manages to create characters who are fully accessible, while still definitely products of their place and their time. The Black experience of post-1968 Atlanta is assuredly a “character” in her story, but Cleage makes sure that her human characters are relatable to any audience, with writing that is sharp and lyrical. The cast of actors that bring these people to life is uniformly superb. David Alan Anderson and Tracey N. Bonner, who made up the entire cast of IRT’s production of The Mountaintop, are again terrific here. And Erika LaVonn is mesmerizing as the enchanting Evie – who has returned to Atlanta to share what she learned . . . in Paris and in life!
What I Learned In Paris is performed on IRT’s Upperstage – and the space is used beautifully. Director Lou Bellamy’s deft touch carries the lightest (great spit takes) and deepest moments with clarity and true feeling. Matthew LeFebvre’s costumes are terrific – especially Evie’s gorgeous wardrobe. Vickie Smith’s set design is pitch perfect and Don Darnutzer’s lighting goes from unassuming to heart breaking. Todd Mack Reischman’s sound design is equal to the production – using some of the music of the era to perfection.
What I Learned in Paris continues its run through APRIL 12th. You can find out more about the schedule and reserve tickets by calling the Box Office at (317) 635-5252, or by going to the website at http://www.irtlive.com. GET YOUR TICKETS SOON! I really loved this enchanting production!!
* – Photos by Zach Rosing