The Colony Theatre’s second offering of the season is another first-rate romantic comedy, What I Learned in Paris. L. SCOTT CALDWELL is a magnificent lioness in autumn. Hear her roar!
Director SAUNDRA McCLAIN had delighted Colony audiences last season with the critically acclaimed Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes. This time, she and her superb cast bring PEARL CLEAGE’s richly faceted play to sparkling life. The Key, Saundra says, is to “pay close attention to the subtext.” And subtexts abound. In the setting of What I Learned in Paris, black men are beginning to overcome prejudice and score important victories. But at the same time, they’re being challenged to confront a male chauvinism that’s no respecter of race.
The stage is truly a time machine. We of a certain age have no doubt we’re inside a handsomely appointed house of the early 70’s. Specifically, November 1973, just as Atlanta elects its first African-American mayor.
The mayor’s very savvy campaign staff had been using the two-story as their informal war room. But a different battle is about to begin, one where it’s possible, but not easy, for both sides to win.
“J.P.” Madison (WILLIAM C. MITCHELL) had been the newly elected mayor’s tightly wrapped and hard-charging campaign manager. And now he’s on the short list for City Attorney. One little wrinkle: contrary to public belief, his twenty something secretary Ann Madison (JOY BRUNSON) is not yet his wife. He had foregone a tacky Vegas ceremony for a more dignified one later. Meanwhile they’ve been living together without benefit of clergy, something that back in the 1970’s could still be a banana peel on the ladder to success.
J.P. confides his predicament to trusted aide John Nelson (SHON FULLER,) hoping that he can arrange a discreet ceremony ahead of J.P.’s pending job interview. Trouble is, John and Ann are in love with each other, as efficient staffer Lena Jefferson (KARAN KENDRICK) found out when witnessing their furtive kiss.
The romantic stakes soar as high as an Atlanta thunderhead when, early in the play, ex-wife Eve Madison (L. SCOTT CALDWELL) returns to her house—the one her former hubby J.P. has been commandeering for the campaign and now hopes to use for his very private wedding. Stormy weather ahead, and a whole lot of singing in the rain.
At one point, Eve tells Lena that she learned to dine alone, but that Lena needs to learn how to not dine alone. In this wonderful romantic comedy, we see how a more liberated world can allow women to do both gracefully.
Postscript: Theatergoers who read about Mayor Maynard Jackson in the program notes will be treating themselves to another story with a happy ending. Under Mayor Jackson, Atlanta had more minority policemen, who later helped him calm a terrified Atlanta during the serial “Atlanta Child Murders” of young blacks. He also made sure that many more minority businesses received municipal contracts, including those for constructing the enormous terminal at Atlanta’s international airport. Mayor Jackson made sure that people understood that this massive project came in “ahead of schedule and under budget.” Since 2003, the year of his death, the airport has been known as the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Continues thru Sunday, October 5 at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St. at Cypress, next to the Burbank Town Center Mall. Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $20 to $49. Student, senior and group discounts available. Call the box office at 818-558-7000 ext. 15 or visit www.ColonyTheatre.org.