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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What I learned about love, truth, and Atlanta politics at the Theatre

Actor Danny Johnson holds newspaper depicting Maynard Jackson's win in 1973.*
While Maynard Jackson, the first Atlanta Mayor who happened to be African American, was being elected for his first term which began in 1974, there was a love triangle going on at his campaign headquarters which grew out of the close relationship volunteers had at the office.
This is the plot behind a new play at the Alliance Theatre.
Characters were well defined and lines well acted.*
Before reading the playbill but after witnessing the play, I wanted to draw on my own experience with Atlanta politics before critiquing “What I Learned in Paris” which is debuting at the Alliance Theatre at the Woodruff through September 30.  I am not a native of Atlanta, mind you, and came to metro ATL to live five months after Jackson was replaced in the Mayor’s office, but I knew he was still a giant in Atlanta politics, influencing desegregation of neighborhoods, black entrepreneurs being awarded government contracts, and hiring blacks in positions of power, especially lawyers.

I met Jackson only once at Shirley Franklin’s inaugural ball in 2002, and asked him to take a picture with me. “No, I’m here with my wife,” he said. “Yes, and I’m here with my husband, the photographer!” I responded.  I didn’t get that picture. Now that I think back on it, I suppose Jackson had faced all sorts of shenanigans in his political career and deemed it risky to even be in a photograph with a woman he just met and didn’t know. 
Russell and LaVoy*
Inappropriate love relationships can damage political futures as can lying and deceit. That is the play’s theme. The subplot: a woman’s power is truly manifested when she looks in the mirror without her significant other’s image peering over her.

The lines were well written by playwright Pearl Cleage and seamlessly carried out by the actors who used the stage and props to the fullest. The acting was first rate. Crystal Fox (Evie) plays the vivacious, socialite, enchantress ex-wife. Danny Johnson, who looks and acts like Danny Glover, plays J.P.  January LaVoy (Lena) plays the mediator, no life but volunteer, heavy. Eugene H. Russell, IV plays the high octane counselor who needs advice in the love department. Kelsey Scott (Ann) is young and inexperienced in her character, on her way to a Parisians awakening.

This play probably means a lot to those who witnessed the Jackson political machine, but it gave me a sense of the “wheels of history” that revolved from it. The ending was somewhat predictable, but getting there was quite entertaining.  

It was a great "date night" event. But of course, you have to go see it to decide for yourself.
The set was designed by Brian Sidney Bernbridge. (Photo by Tomi Johnson)
*Alliance Theatre photos from Lobby by Greg Mooney.  ©2012 Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved.

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