by Espii · June 6, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #104 Espii looks at When January Feels Like Summer at Ensemble Studio Theatre
One minute, it’s hot and sweaty outside. The next minute, it’s cold and rainy. Things are not what they are expected to be. This rapid change in the weather serves as an underlying theme for When January Feels Like Summer.
We are placed in Central Harlem with five loosely-related characters. Nirmala runs the convenience store and struggles with her marriage. Her brother, Ishan, accepts his trans identity and begins the physical transformation into Indira. Joe, the garbage man, longs for an intimate connection. Devaun and Jeron, two young men, add comedy to the mix as they seek to make a difference in their neighborhood.
Each element of the production design works together to create a realistic feel of New York City. Jason Simms’ set design is attentive to detail, from the personalized graffiti on the wall to the 10 cents sticker on the candy bowl. Austin. R Smith’s lighting design and Shane Rettig’s sound design go hand in hand creating quick transitions like the inconsistency in the weather. A highlight for Sydney Maresca’s costume design was Indira’s rumpled red dress for her date night.
Director Daniella Topol does a wonderful job exploring the ebb and flow of each character. She has created a balance that grows more dangerous by the minute, but remains intact.
Maurice Williams and J. Mallory McCree complement each other as Devaun and Jeron. Devaun’s personality pushes forward while Jeron’s personality lays back. They look out for each other, and Williams gives Devaun an extra layer of trying to prove his masculinity. Also shining is Debargo Sanyal’s portrayal of Ishan/Indira. The physical transformation is sudden, while the mental and social change is gradual. Sanyal allows Indira to embrace vulnerability as she comes into her own as a woman.
In When January Feels Like Summer, Cori Thomas explores cultural norms, black male hypermasculinity, and transphobia. Tying everything together is the Indian god Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles. By the end of the play, we either want religion to wave a magic wand, or we fear that reality will deliver a crushing blow to our characters’ lives.
Yet, neither happens. When January Feels Like Summer brings the characters all together at the end, but this time with the beginnings of real relationships. Moving forward and making progress in life involves removing one obstacle at a time.