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A Tale of Passion & Politics

What I Learned in Paris, a Portland Playhouse & Penumbra Theatre Company Collaboration.

Presented by Portland Playhouse January 30, 2023

Portland audiences - prepare to be transported back to an era when miniskirts and bell-bottoms are in fashion, the Isley Brothers are topping the charts, and change is in the air. It’s October 1973, and Atlanta stands on the precipice of drastic political change after the election of its first African American mayor, Maynard Jackson.

Cycerli Ash & Lester Purry.

Image: Shawnte Sims

As Jackson’s campaign team celebrates on the eve of this victory, politics mix with passion and things take a turn for the romantic. Called “funny and cunning…with whip-smart dialogue” (Chicago Tribune), this romantic comedy by Pearl Cleage (the author of the New York Times bestseller What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day) speaks with wit and wisdom to the intersection of race, class and gender at a pivotal time in US history.

The story itself isn’t specifically about the history-making moments of this political victory, rather it shifts the focus to the romantic liaisons of its characters & answers one of life’s most often-asked questions, does love really conquer all?

Cycerli Ash & La' Tevin Alexander.

Image: Shawnte Sims

J.P. Madison (Lester Purry), a prominent lawyer, is riding high after the good news of this hard-fought election win, alongside him, his new wife Ann (Lauren Steele), stalwart campaigner Lena (Vinecia Coleman), and his junior partner, John (La’ Tevin Alexander). But then, JP’s ex-wife Eve (Cycerli Ash) sweeps back into town and brings with her the temptation of knowledge from far-flung corners of the world.

Cycerli Ash & Lauren Steele.

Image: Shawnte Sims

This turn of events promises to turn lives upside down as each character is confronted with expectations, obligations and human emotions, and the pull and tug that destiny has on our lives.

Throw in a steamy love triangle, and What I Learned in Paris promises to turn up the heat. So, why not escape the dreary drizzle of a Portland winter, and steal a few hours caught up in this funny, touching, romance?

What I Learned in Paris hits the stage during Black History Month, which is a time to celebrate the power, strength and joy of Black life and culture in all its facets. Speaking the truth of Black life and Black love, whichthe play deals with, fits squarely within this framework.

Cycerli Ash & Vinecia Coleman.

Image: Shawnte Sims

Another historical twist - the show’s Playwright, Pearl Cleage, had a front-row seat to all the history referenced in the play. She is none other than Maynard Jackson’s real-life Press Secretary, and Communications Director, and was in the thick of things during the 1973 campaign, and subsequent victory.

What I Learned in Paris is Directed by Lou Bellamy, an OBIE award winner and arguably one of the most prominent Black directors and producers in the United States. Mr. Bellamy established Penumbra Theatre Company in 1976 and built it into a leading theatre dedicated to the dramatic exploration of the African American experience. Under his leadership, Penumbra has grown to be the largest theater of its kind in America and has produced 39 world premieres, including August Wilson’s first professional production. Penumbra has produced more of Mr. Wilson’s plays than any other theater in the world.

Lester Purry, Vinecia Coleman & Lauren Steele.

Image: Shawnte Sims

Shows run February 8 - March 26. Tickets can be found here: www.portlandplayhouse.org/pdxparis

What I Learned in Paris
By Pearl Cleage
Directed by Lou Bellamy
Performances: Feb 8 - March 26. Tickets: $25 - $52.50

BIPOC Performance Dates: Feb 15, Feb 26 & March 3. BIPOC Performances are Pay What You Wish, starting at $5.

Masks are optional but strongly recommended at Portland Playhouse.

We recognize there are some members of our community who will find it difficult to safely enjoy their Playhouse experience in a mask-optional environment. Therefore, a number of performances are designated masks required, these are indicated on the ticket page.

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