The Opposite of Hell Freezing Over: “When January Feels Like Summer”

Photo courtesy of CST Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of CST Facebook page.

Presented by Underground Railway Theater
Written by Cori Thomas
Directed by Benny Sato Ambush

Oct. 20 – Nov. 13, 2016
Central Square Theater
Cambridge, MA
CST on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Cambridge, MA) Spoiler alert: No one dies in When January Feels Like Summer. No one even gets beaten up. In fact, everyone gets a happy ending. Thomas’ play is extraordinary because sweet but nosy Indira gets to be happy. Thomas’ POC characters get to live their lives without some white person causing unnecessary trouble. It shouldn’t be unusual that a play about POCs or a trans woman isn’t about the violence inflected on them, but it is. It shouldn’t be revolutionary for a person to go about their business. Yet, here we are.      

January is a romcom; everyone is looking for love. Everyone wishes to be truly seen and accepted for who they are, not as the person they are perceived to be: Indira (Mesma Belsare) is a beautiful woman. Devaun (Seth Hill) is clever and a necessary helper of the community. Nirmala (Sanaa Kazi) is a capable and compellingly attractive partner. Joe (David J. Curtis) makes good choices; he’s a responsible, loving man. Jeron (Marc Pierre) is wise, and would make a good boyfriend. Ganesha, holy God of wisdom and remover of obstacles, makes an indirect cameo late in this play. He shows up just in time to fulfill the cast’s wishes. Through change, some listening, and taking chances, they all find the love they need.

A central theme of this play is looking beyond appearances to see the true nature of a person. Thomas’ writing is devious in its ability to misguide the audience into seeing the potential bad where only good is found. For example, Devaun and Jeron use slang and a copious amount of swear words when they speak. (Devaun’s mauling of English is a particularly creative treat). Rather than focus on the specifics, it behooves the audience to comprehend what these boys are communicating. It’s not the How but the What that is important. Active listening is the first step in understanding a person.

The acting in this play is excellent. The ensemble work is exceptional.

Belsare as Indira/Ishan is radiant. The joy she exudes from portraying Indira’s becoming into herself is infectious. Indira’s a lovely woman that we want to succeed. Her happiness is our happiness.

Pierre is the straight man to Hill’s savant idiocy. They make a hilarious pair. Hill engages in scene chewing and over the top physical comedy while Pierre miraculously keeps his composure. The two of them had us braying like jackasses with laughter. These two should start a comedy routine across the street at ImprovBoston.

Kazi and Curtis are the serious adults necessary to cement this production in a relatable reality. Their roles aren’t as aggressive as the others but they are equally as important. They remind us that there is more at stake than romantic frippery. The heart is a fragile, scared thing. It’s care requires compassion and great respect.     

January could use a dramaturg. It’s strange that it doesn’t have one. If not for the actors and crew then definitely for the audience. We are brought into a beautiful world devised by Cori Thomas that is as diverse as New York City purports to be. While Boston is a large city with many diverse cultures, a great many of its white inhabitants know nothing of Hindu, or black culture aside from what we Google after watching TV (no one wants to drive Miss Daisy, but someone has to). The programme boasts an informative interview with Thomas by Zachary Rice but it’s not enough. Nothing can replace the work of a good dramaturg.

When January Feels Like Summer is a feel good play with depth. Audience members will leave feeling hopeful for humanity – a desperately necessary experience given today’s political climate. There are sweet moments, sad moments, but best of all, there are honest moments of connection between characters. Just about everyone can appreciate that.

Central Square Theater is hosting events for this production. We’ve missed Indira’s speed matchmaking but there are others that look wonderful.

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