What I Learned in Paris
by Pearl Cleage
directed by ​Lou Bellamy
February 19, 2022 - March 19, 2022

It’s 1973, Maynard Jackson has just been elected Atlanta’s first African American mayor and the city is poised to become the “new Black capital of America.” Change is in the air—and so is love! As Jackson’s campaign operatives make history, passions ignite and lives get turned upside down—especially when an unexpected visitor breezes back into town. Called “funny and cunning…with whip-smart dialogue” (Chicago Tribune), this fast-paced romantic comedy by the author of Blues for an Alabama Sky and the New York Times bestseller What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, speaks to the intersection of race, class and gender at a pivotal time.


Due to the current surge of COVID-19, the performance run of What I Learned in Paris by Pearl Cleage, originally scheduled to begin Feb. 12, will now start one week later on Feb. 19. What I Learned in Paris will run through Mar. 19, with the same number of performances as originally planned. The decision to delay rehearsals and performances was made in the interest of protecting the health and safety of all our artists, staff, volunteers and audiences. Ticket holders for the following performances will be affected by the schedule change:

  • Saturday, Feb. 12 at 8 pm
  • Sunday, Feb. 13 at 7 pm
  • Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 pm
  • Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 pm
  • Thursday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 pm
  • Friday, Feb. 18 at 8 pm
  • Saturday, Feb 19 at 2:30 pm only
  • Sunday, Feb. 20 at 2 pm
  • Friday, Feb. 25 at 8 pm

Audiences in all other previously scheduled performances will not be affected.

We apologize for this inconvenience. Our ticket services office will be contacting all the affected ticket holders as quickly as possible about rescheduling their tickets and to inform them of their options. Please be assured that we are taking all the necessary measures to ensure your health and safety when you return. Questions? Please call the ​Box Office at 714-708-5555.

Previews: February 1​9-​24, 2022
First Night: February ​25, 2022
Regular Performances: February ​26-March 1​9, 2022

Recommendation: High school and up.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta-based writer whose works include three novels, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (Avon Books, 1997), I Wish I Had A Red Dress (Morrow/Avon, 2001), and Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, (Ballantine/One World, August, 2003); a dozen plays, including Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Hospice and Bourbon at the Border; two books of essays, Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth and Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot; and a book of short fiction, The Brass Bed and Other Stories (Third World Press). She is also a performance artist, collaborating frequently with her husband, Zaron W. Burnett, Jr., under the title Live at Club Zebra. The two have performed sold out shows at both the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and The National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a frequent contributor to anthologies and has been featured recently in Proverbs for the People, Contemporary African American Fiction, edited by Tracy Price-Thompson and TaRessa Stovall and in Mending the World, Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers, edited by Rosemarie Robotham. She is a Contributing Writer to ESSENCE Magazine, and in 1998, her novel, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day was an Oprah Book Club pick and spent nine weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

Learn more about the production, cast & creative team with a peek into the program. Read full artist bios, in-depth articles and more.


James T. Alfred (John Nelson) is an award winning actor who is making his SCR debut. Other stage credits include Broadway national tour of August Wilson’s Jitney; Detroit ’67, August Wilson’s Jitney, Redshirts, Fences, Two Trains Running and A Brown Tale at Penumbra Theater; Head of Passes by Academy Award winner Tarell McCraney and The Glass Menagerie at Steppenwolf Theatre; Radio Golf at Chicago’s Court Theatre; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Mountaintop at the Guthrie Theater; Fences at Indiana Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Arizona Repertory Theatre; April 4, 1968 at Indiana Repertory Theatre; Brothers of the Dust at Congo Square; All’s Well That Ends Well at The Public Theater; and Endgame at Baltimore Center Stage. Television credits include FOX’s “Empire” and “Prison Break”; NBC’s “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Black List” and “Blind Spot;” CBS’ “FBI”; STARZ’s “Boss” and “Power Book II: Ghost.” He is a graduate of the Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University and holds and MFA from the Moscow Art Theater School in Russia. 


A. Russell Andrews (J.P. Madison) is the founding member of the award winning, LA-based stage company, StageWalkers. As an actor, he was chosen by August Wilson to originate the roles of  Mister in King Hedley II and Youngblood in Jitney. With StageWalkers, he’s garnered multiple actor/producer honors including NAACP Theatre and LA Ovations for his work with Wilson’s Piano Lesson, Jitney and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, where he received his first NAACP Award for Best Actor. As Youngblood in the London cast of Jitney, Andrews, along with Wilson and the ensemble, received the UK’s Olivier Award for Best New Play performed at London’s Royal National Theatre. His film and television credits include Principal Gaines in “Insecure” (HBO), Principal Avery in “Sterling” (HBO), Lifetime’s Searching for Neverland, TVOne’s Runaway Island, directed by Dianne Houston, Hanelle Culpepper’s A Single Rose, “The Punisher,” “NCIS: New Orleans,” Better Call Saul,” “Shameless” and “The Defenders.” arussellandrews.com


Celeste M. Cooper (Le​na Jefferson) is excited to make her SCR debut. She is an ensemble member with Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Her Steppenwolf credits include BLKS; Doppelgänger; Familiar; A Doll’s House, Part 2; and New York Times critic’s pick Duchess! Duchess! Duchess! Additional theatre credits include Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky (Court Theatre), Measure for Measure (Goodman Theatre), Stick Fly (Windy City Playhouse), Ruined (Eclipse Theatre), For Colored Girls… (Kansas City Repertory), Building The Wall (Curious Theatre in Denver) and Mrs. Harrison (Indiana Repertory). Her TV and film credits include recurring on “Chicago PD,” “4400,” “Sense8,” Spike Lee’s Chiraq, and a leading role in indie feature Range Runners currently streaming. Awards: Most Promising Actress (Black Theater Alliance); Best Actress for Range Runners (Twister Alley); NewCity Stage magazine listed her as “people who really perform for Chicago” in 2020. She has a BA from Tennessee State University and MFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University.   


Erika LaVonn (Eve Madison) returns after making her SCR debut in Sheepdog. She has worked on small and big screens, in soaps and dramas, Hallmark and horror, including “Law & Order: SVU” and War of the Worlds. From historical human to a fictional feral, LaVonn has portrayed the likes of Mary Stuart in Mary Stuart, and Marian Anderson in My Lord, What a Night, to Nala and Serabi in Broadway’s The Lion King. She has had the privilege of working overseas and at numerous theatres from coast to coast including those located in Portland, Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Louisville, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Delaware, Hartford, Boston, and at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.. She counts The Christians (The Wilma Theater, Syracuse Stage), What I Learned in Paris (Indiana Repertory Theatre), The Mountaintop (Guthrie Theater, Blumenthal Center, Arizona Theatre Company) amongst her favorites.


Kaye Winks (Ann Madison) is an actress, writer, and comedian. In Chicago, she performed in The Second City’s first all-female sketch comedy revue She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves and co-wrote its follow-up, She the People: The Resistance Continues. Winks also performed with The Second City at The Kennedy Center in the holiday satire, Love, Factually. Her original play Hoods premiered at Goodman Theatre in association with Collaboraction Theatre. She performed her Chicago Reader Recommended solo show TOKEN at Theatre Aspen. She trained at the Moscow Art Theatre’s Stanislavsky Summer School in association with the American Repertory Theatre and Harvard University as well as with French master clown Philippe Gaulier. Her recent television credits include HBO Max’s “South Side” and “Fresh Off the Boat” on ABC. kayewinks.com

Creative Team

Lou Bellamy (Director) returns to SCR after directing Fireflies. He is the founder and artistic director emeritus of Penumbra Theatre. During his 40-year tenure, Penumbra evolved into one of America’s premier theatres dedicated to 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 more than 45 world premieres including August Wilson’s first professional production. Bellamy and Penumbra are proud to have produced more of Wilson’s plays than any theatre in the world. Bellamy is an Obie Award-winning director, an accomplished actor and, for 38 years, he served as an associate professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. Bellamy most recently directed Penumbra’s productions of Pipeline and Brothers Paranormal. His selected directing credits outside of Penumbra include plays at the Logan Square Arts Festival, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Arizona Theatre Company, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Signature Theatre, Cleveland Play House, Guthrie Theater, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Geva Theatre Center, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Gem Theater, Round House and Hartford Stage.

Vicki Smith (Scenic Design) is pleased to return to SCR, having previously designed Fireflies. She has designed for Denver Center Theatre Company, Arizona Theatre Company, Penumbra Theatre Company,  Children’s Theatre Company, Geva Theatre  Center, Indiana Repertory Theatre, The Guthrie Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Cleveland Playhouse, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, among others. She received Bay Area Critics Awards for Kite Runner and Execution of Justice, a Drama-Logue award for Cyrano, and Colorado Theatre and Denver Ovation Awards for Mariela in the DesertDoubt, Plainsong, I’m Not Rappaport and Pierre, which was selected for the 2007 Prague Quadrennial Design Exposition. Her work has been shown in two museum exhibitions: Penumbra Theatre at 40 at the Minnesota History Center and No Small Parts, the Role of Scale Models in Theater Set Design at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson. 

Dana Rebecca Woods (Costume Design) theater designs include Jitney and Fences at SCR; Intimate Apparel at Orlando Shakes; Under Normal Circumstances and In the Red and Brown Water at UC Santa Barbara; Pipeline at Alabama Shakespeare Festival and Ensemble Theater Cincinnati; NAACP award nominated The Color Purple at the Greenway Court Theater; Blues in the Night at San Francisco’s Post Street Theater; Laguna Playhouse and the Wallis Annenberg Center; and Shout Sister Shout, Stop Kiss, Above the Fold, Fences and others for The Pasadena Playhouse. Film and television design work includes John Sayles’ Go For Sisters; The Line (The Mechanic); telenovela “Watch Over Me;” and web series “Ethnically Ambiguous.” Woods’ taught at UCF, UCLA, and is guest speaker at LA Trade Tech College. She is a member of United Scenic Artists; Costume Designers Guild; Motion Picture Costumers and Co-Chair of the CDG Diversity Committee. 

Don Darnutzer (Lighting Design) designed Fireflies for South Coast Repertory. His most recent lighting and projection design was for Dead Man Walking at the Israel Opera (Tel Aviv). He designed the lighting for the Broadway production of It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues and the off-Broadway productions of Hank Williams: Lost Highway, The Immigrant and Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America. He has designed for Guthrie Theater, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Arizona Theatre Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Shakespeare Theatre, American Conservatory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Cleveland Play House, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Penumbra Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, The Old Globe, Mark Taper Forum, Alley Theatre, Dallas Theatre Center, Coconut Grove Playhouse, Saint Louis Repertory, Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, Palm Beach Opera, Portland Opera, New Orleans Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Atlanta Opera, Central City Opera and Minnesota Opera. 

Jesse Mandapat (Sound Design) is returning for his second SCR design, having previously designed A Shot Rang Out. He was nominated in Los Angeles for a 2021 Ovation Award in Sound Design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Greenway Court Theatre). Off-Broadway designs include Bundle of Sticks (INTAR), Tell Hector I Miss Him (Atlantic Theatre Company), Fool For Love (Theatre for the New City), Fish Men (INTAR) and Locusts Have No King (INTAR). Los Angeles designs include West Adams (Skylight Theatre), Red Ink (Playwright’s Arena), Defenders (The Broadwater), The Chinese Lady (Artists At Play), Be A Good Little Widow (Odyssey Theater Ensemble), Exit Strategy (LA LGBT Center) and 1984 (Greenway Court Theatre). Special projects: The Castle Rock Live Experience (San Diego Comic-Con 2018), The Fantastic Kim Sisters (East West Players Theatre For Youth) and What Goes Around (Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre). He has a BA in Music from UC San Diego and an MFA in Sound Design from CalArts.

​​Macelle Mahala (Dramaturg) writes about the intersection of theatre, race, performance, and social justice. She is the author of Penumbra: The Premier Stage for African American Drama (University of Minnesota Press, 2013) and Black Theater, City Life: African American Art Institutions and Urban Cultural Ecologies, forthcoming in August from Northwestern University Press. The latter includes a chapter on Atlanta starting from the era represented in What I Learned in Paris. Her essays, “Asserting Black Subjectivity on the German Stage,” (2019) and “Against Order(s): Dictatorship, Absurdism, and the Plays of Sony Labou Tansi,” (2016) appear in critical anthologies by Routledge and Palgrave Macmillan. Other writing has been featured in Theatre Journal; Theatre Topics; Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre, and Performance; Women & Performance; and XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics. She currently serves as Humanities Center Director and Professor of English and Media X at the University of the Pacific.

Kathryn Davies (Stage Manager) previously stage-managed A Shot Rang Out, You’re a Good Man, Charie Brown, The Velveteen Rabbit, Poor Yella Rednecks, Sugar Plum Fairy, Orange, The Roommate, All the Way, Future Thinking, Red, Vietgone, The Whipping Man, Tartuffe, Reunion, Trudy and Max in Love, The Motherf**ker with the Hat, How to Write a New Book for the Bible, Sight Unseen, Topdog/Underdog, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, Doctor Cerberus, Ordinary Days, Our Mother’s Brief Affair and The Injured Party—all at SCR. Her favorite credits include The Wars at the Grand Theatre; Dividing the Estate at Dallas Theater Center; La Bohème at Tulsa Opera; The Mystery of Irma Vep at The Old Globe; Les Contes D’Hoffmann at Hawaii Opera Theatre; Of Mice and Men at Neptune Theatre; The Dresser at Manitoba Theatre Centre; Skylight at Tarragon Theatre; To Kill a Mockingbird at Citadel Theatre; and The Designated Mourner at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Davies also worked as head theatre manager at the Toronto International, Dubai International, AFI, TCM and Los Angeles film festivals.

Julie Ann Renfro (Assistant Stage Manager) is grateful to return to SCR for What I Learned In Paris! Other SCR favorites include A Christmas Carol, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Parisian Woman, Of Good Stock, The Light Princess and You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, among many others! Additional credits include LA Opera, Geffen Playhouse, La Mirada Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Laguna Playhouse, Sydney Independent Theatre Company, Long Beach Shakespeare Company and the 2018 North American Tour of A Night with Janis Joplin. Renfro is from Costa Mesa, CA, where she received her BA in theatre arts from Vanguard University and is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. LYBNC!

The Actors and Stage Managers employed in this production are members of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Kaye Winks and A. Russell Andrews in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
Erika LaVonn and A. Russell Andrews in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
Erika LaVonn in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
What I Learned in Paris Production Photo
Erika LaVonn, Kaye Winks and Celeste M. Cooper in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
Kaye Winks and James T. Alfred in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
James T. Alfred, Celeste M. Cooper, Erika LaVonn and A. Russell Andrews in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
James T. Alfred and A. Russell Andrews in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
Celeste M. Cooper and Kaye Winks in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
Erika LaVonn and Celeste M. Cooper in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
Erika LaVonn and Celeste M. Cooper in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
Celeste M. Cooper in "What I Learned in Paris." Photo by Jenny Graham.
video video
Celeste M. Cooper
Celeste M. Cooper Talks About Breaking Out Of Her Shell

Co​oper talks about the role of Lena in What I Learned in Paris, director Lou Bellamy’s guidance and her journey into acting.

A Russell Andrews
A. Russell Andrews Tackles the Challenge of Comedy

Andrews talks about his 30 years in the business, the challenge of comedy, and how What I Learned in Paris brings him to SCR for the first time.

Erika LaVonn in What I Learned in Paris
Erika LaVonn Discusses Bringing Pearl Cleage’s Words to Life
LaVonn also talks about her return to SCR, working with director Lou Bellamy again, and a role she adores playing.
Pearl Cleage
An Interview with Playwright Pearl Cleage

Production Dramaturg, Macelle Mahala, interviews the playwright and learns how she came to write What I Learned in Paris.

Lou Bellamy
Renowned Director Lou Bellamy Talks About Returning to SCR

Learn more about What I Learned in Paris directors, why he's happy to return and his relationship with Artistic Director David Ivers.

Maynard Jackson
Radical Acts of Love

Dramaturg Macelle Mahala breaks down the back story of What I Learned in Paris, its characters, setting and themes in this dramaturgical essay.

Dana Rachel Woods and What I Learned in Paris Logo
Dana Rebecca Woods Approaches Designs Like a Good Mystery

Learn how the What I Learned in Paris ​designer fell in love with costume design and how she dove into the play's period and approached design for each character.

Michael Ray
Jean & Tim Weiss

US Bank Foundation Logo

LA Sentinel


Talks & Conversations for
What I Learned in Paris

  • Director/Designer Conversation: Tues., Feb. 22, 2022
  • Actor Conversation: Wed., March 2, 2022
  • Inside the Season: Sat., March 5, 2022 at 10:30 a.m.
  • Performance Perspective: Wed., March ​9 and ​Thurs., March 10, 2022
  • ASL Performance: Sat., ​March 12, 2022 at 2:30 p.m.
  • Deep Dive: ​Wed., March 16, 2022
  • Playwright/Dramaturg Conversation: ​Fri., March 1​8, 2022 
See the full schedule

Vaccination, proof of vaccination and masks are required for all theatregoers. Read SCR’s full COVID-19 requirements and protocol.

South Coast Repertory’s health and safety protocol has been developed with advice from the University of California Irvine.

UCI Health