Cori Thomas’ play, When January Feels Like Summer world-premiering at City Theatre, at first feels like a lightweight character study but, as its time moves on, the colors deepen and begin to shimmer. Most especially actor Debargo Sanyal’s brilliance shines. Admire as well four other exceptional actors and a fine director. Over the two hours and fifteen minutes of exposure to them you become immersed in they who they are.
Contemporary New York City is the setting. And, at first, given Anne Mundell’s convincing generic subway station set you may think that much of what happens will be along such tracks. But, in fact, the set could better suggest characters going places they do not expect.
Street-talkin’ homeboy Devaun gets real riled up because some guy seems to wanna homosex him. So he and his buddy Jeron gotta warn people in the hood about the danger to others. That connects them with Nirmala, a no-longer youthful Indian-American woman who runs a convenience store. Her brother Ishan, taking charge of the store at times, is working at converting himself into becoming a herself, hence a sister, named Indira. Devaun prides himself on his ability to romance women and is attracted to Indira. Meanwhile Isfan/Indira tries to match up Nirmala with Joe, a neighborhood sanitation worker.
That doesn’t sound like much. But in When January Feels Like Summer playwright Thomas, evidently intending a comedy, has made Devaun’s vocabulary-challenged happiness, his vigorous innocence and his unintentional charm a person who reaches out to hug you, more than to make you laugh. Or at least so it feels with Pittsburgh actor Joshua Ellis Reese digging into the role in spades.
Debargo Sanyal’s take on Isfan becoming Indira conveys such deep understanding and vulnerability that, as much as you might find funny his efforts to become a woman, more importantly, Sanyal makes the character genuine. So much so that by the time the play concludes you can’t help wanting to hug him/her too.
Credit director Patterson for making the most of all these talents. Credit Patterson equally for finding the right depth in the awkward emerging of affection between Nirmala and Joe. This becomes especially moving having learned about Nirmala’s loveless marriage. And Gita Reddy’s version of Nirmala has a completely believable fragility that makes this possible, her being touched becomes touching.
Pittsburgh’s Carter Redwood as Jeron and John Marshall Jones as Joe add to the constant sense that you are watching real people.
Frequently you could be amused. Ultimately though, I think you’ll be moved by
the underlying compassion and sensitivity of this play.
When January Feels Like Summer continues through April 11 at the South Side’s
City Theatre 412/ 431 CITY (2489). www.citytheatrecompany.org/