Thursday, June 5, 2014

When January Feels Like Summer @ The Ensemble Studio Theatre

The partnership of The Ensemble Studio Theater and Page 73 Productions starts this reviewer’s theater season off on just the right foot,.
When January Feels Like Summer follows five diverse Central Harlem residents as they collide during one strangely warm winter, when a feeling of change hums in the air.  Though everyday encounters on the subway and in the corner bodegas a pair of teenagers becomes unexpected heroes, an immigrant accountant embraces transformation, and two lonely soles begin to stumble toward each other.”
When January Feels Like Summer is a wonderfully smart bit of writing by Cori Thomas.  Her characters are a perfect blend of ridiculous and believable, causing delight and heartache in the same breath.  It is no surprise with material such as this that the cast excels as well.  Maurice Williams (Devaun) and J Mallory McCree (Jeron) are hilarious together.  Their innocent ignorance allows them to deliver what could otherwise be offensive dialogue as comedy gold.  Dion Graham (Joe) plays a wonderfully mild mannered everyman, who quietly lends compassion and relateability to the audience.  Mahira Kakkar (Nirmala) subtly builds emotional confusion in her character, culminating in a truly crazed release.  Even among these brilliant performances, Debargo Sanyal (Ishan/Indira) rises skyward.  Sanyal’s portrayal was as moving as it was humorous, often at the same time.  His stylized character reactions leave you disarmed with laughter, lending greater strength to the vulnerability he has a moment later.  To not empathize with him is to be heartless.
In case there wasn’t enough delight in the cast and writing, the direction, set and lighting add even more to this ensemble work.  Jason Simm’s set is a wonderful use of the space; seamlessly transforming in seconds and giving the detail that even lifelong New Yorker’s will appreciate.  Add to that the flowing stage movement from director Daniella Topol, the simple precision of lighting by Austin R Smith and the great prop work by Andrew T Chandler and we are transported around the city with casual ease.
When January Feels Like Summer is a must see!  This stellar production will leave you awe struck.

Review by: Paul Morin

Photos by: Gerry Goodstien

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