Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Underground Railway Theater Presents "When January Feels Like Summer" by Cori Thomas - A Total Delight - Through November 13th


The current offering at Central Square Theater is Underground Railway Theater's production of "When January Feels Like Summer" by the gifted playwright Cori Thomas.  This romantic comedy features five denizens of Harlem whose lives intertwine in kaleidoscopic patterns.  At least one of them believes that the Hindu God Ganesh, Lord of Success, is busy at work removing obstacles to happiness and success for those who pray to the Elephant God. Allow me to introduce these characters whom I came to cherish, and who felt like lifelong friends of mine by the end of this play.
  • Devaun (Seth Hill) works at Burger King, fancies himself a dashing and debonair ladies' man, and consistently mangles the English language as creatively as Sheridan's Mrs. Malaprop.
  • Jeron (Marc Pierre) is a compatriot of Devaun, working at a different Burger King. He is more knowledgeable about the world, and often corrects and informs Devaun about practical matters, but Devaun reciprocates by teaching Jeron about women.
  • Nirmala (Sanaa Kazi) is married to an older man through a marriage that her parents arranged in India. Her husband was shot and lies brain dead in the hospital.  She refuses to give the order to pull the plug, and she slaves away at the bodega that her husband owns in Harlem.
  • Indira/Ishan (Mesma Belsar√©) is the younger brother of Nirmala.  He came with her to America as part of the marriage contract.  Ishan has decided to initiate a transgender transformation into Indira, and finds the courage to present herself publicly as a woman for the first time while she minds the store for Nirmala.
  • Joe (David J. Curtis) works for the NYC Department of Sanitation.  He lives alone and is still licking his wounds after his wife left him. He frequents the bodega and buys Breyer's vanilla ice cream on a regular basis. 
Remember the names of these five actors.  They distinguish themselves here, and promise to continue to do so on Boston and Cambridge stages in the future.

Mesma Belsar√© as Indira
Sanaa Kazi as Nirmala
"When January Feels Like Summer"
by Cori Thomas
Underground Railway Theater
at Central Square Theater
Through November 13th

Each of the five in his or her own way is lonely and seeking meaningful connection. Joe is interested in Nirmala, but she hangs on to an unconsummated marriage out of a sense of duty, loyalty and propriety. A proffered banana split becomes an inflection point in Act II. Devaun is attracted to Indira. Should she take the enormous risk of sharing her secret? She enlists Ganesh to guide her through this minefield, and the tension is palpable as we wait for some indication of the result. Jeron tries to connect with a friend of Devaun, but his ham-handed and overly Neanderthal macho act on the phone almost the scuttles the love boat before it leaves the dock.

Each of the actors creates a compelling character. I found myself caring about what would happen to each one. Ms. Thomas' writing captures the rhythms and nuances of speech of the street without being demeaning or condescending. Her writing is as subtle as saffron and as bracing as curry powder. Director Benny Sato Ambush directs this gifted quintet as if they were an a Capella group blending seamlessly with one another. The Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland is utilitarian and efficient, carving out spaces to represent the bodega and the living space above that is shared by Indira and Nirmala, a living space for Joe, another living room that Jeron uses to host visits from Devaun, and a space to represent the hospital room of Nirmala's comatose husband, and a NYC subway car. Costume Design is by Leslie Held, Lighting Design is by Jeff Adelberg, Sound Design is by Dewey Dellay.

Marc Pierre as JeronSeth Hill as Devaun
"When January Feels Like Summer"
by Cori Thomas
Underground Railway Theater
at Central Square Theater
Through November 13th
The overall effect of this play is as satisfying and delicious as the aforementioned banana split. I walked away inspired and elated by this uplifting story of hope and acceptance. May Ganesh grant you the good fortune to secure tickets to see this play before it closes on November 13th.

Central Square Theater Website

Enjoy!

Al


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