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What I Learned In Paris

Chicago Premiereparis99

By Pearl Cleage

Directed by Daniel Bryant

Produced by Congo Square Theatre

At Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago

Smartly Sophisticated Urban Comedy of Manners Awaits

Congo Square Theatre long has been a troupe that mounts terrific plays about the African-American experience. Their latest, What I Learned In Paris, a Chicago premiere, is another fine production of a play by Pearl Cleage. This urban comedy is set in 1973 Atlanta as the city’s first Black mayor has just been elected. What I learned In Paris is more than a romantic comedy; it speaks to the politics of race, class, and gender as Atlanta moves from a Southern Gothic city to a cosmopolitan modern city.

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What I learned In Paris features the Mayor-elect’s inner-circle, with Lena (Alexis J. Rogers) as the staff election coordinator and John (Ronnel Taylor) a staff election operative. These folks were staying at the mayor-elect’s chief adviser J. P. Madison’s (Darren Jones) old condo. We also meet Madison’s second wife, Anne (Kristin Ellis), a politically-struck young idealist.

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The setting is the night and day following the historic election.  We see that John loves Anne, and Anne is more  awe-struck than in love with Madison, who is old enough to be Anne’s father. Sparks fly between John and Anne as Lena referees. This smart tale of passion and politics ignites old loves as the new Black elite cautiously assume power.

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The mayhem happens when the dynamic and 60’s liberated woman, Evie (the delightful Shanesia Davis), returns to Atlanta from California unannounced. She is the former wife of J.P.Madison. Evie immediately bonds with Lena and the chaos begins. Old flames reignite, new loves emerge as Anne questions her loyalties and struggles to find herself.  The clever plot twists and the fully developed characters make for a funny, empathetic romp.  Peppered with wit and truthful humor, we meet a terrific character in the flower-child of the 60’s flamboyance, Evie, who is played by the charismatic Shanesia Davis. Alexis J. Rogers facilitates and supports the plots nicely. Without giving away more twists, let me say that What I learned In Paris is funny and smartly drawn, while it is a self discovery journey for the characters. It is a delightful polished urban comedy of manners.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: January 9, 2016

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the What I learned In Paris page at

At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL,, tickets $27- $37, Thursdaay thru Saturdays at 7:30, 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes  with intermission, through February 7, 2016