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Cori Thomas’ When January Feels Like Summer flirts with magical realism and Do the Right Thing–style social drama before settling into a more prosaic groove: romantic comedy. That’s a letdown only because the piece veers so frequently into stranger territory. Even once the possibility of love emerges as its major theme, Thomas seems to lose her nerve: She can’t bear to let even one of her five richly developed characters suffer disappointment. There’s also a huge chunk of the show’s first half that makes no sense—thematically or plotwise or otherwise—and that can’t simply be waved away under the rubric of surrealism.
It might be the shakiest play I’ve ever enthusiastically recommended.
Serge Seiden’s season-capping production for Mosaic Theater Company of DC rises above the wobbly material with warm, committed performances from the entire cast, but particularly from Jeremy Keith Hunter and Vaughn Ryan Midder. They play Devaun and Jeron, a pair of Burger King employees who feel moved to “serve” their community by “warning” them, via a poster campaign, about a gay man who might’ve made an unwanted advance on ladies-man Devaun. “He try to homo-sex me right in the store!” reads the language of the indictment.
Hunter’s delivery makes it impossible not to laugh at lines like this. Devaun says “predictor” when he means “predator” and “serial” when he means “serious”; he also believes in a direct, immediate cause-and-effect relationship between the volatile Manhattan weather patterns he and the other characters keep prattling on about and people who don’t sort their recyclables. Jeron is smarter than Devaun is but lacks his friend’s swaggering confidence with women.
Thomas treats their unexamined homophobia with as little judgment as she handles Ishan/Indira (Shravan Amin), who is transitioning from male to female and starting a dating service. Indira’s bodega-proprietor sister, Nirmala (Lynette Rathnam), whose husband has been in a coma ever since being shot in a robbery, struggles to understand Indira’s desire for sex reassignment surgery but loves her unconditionally. Nirmala in turn is gently pursued by Jason B. McIntosh’s Joe, a lonely sanitation worker who lost his wife to addiction.
It’s rare for a piece to offer five substantial roles for nonwhite actors and rarer still for such a play not to make race its subject. When January Feels Like Summer is nearly as confounding a play as something like William Shakespeare‘s The Taming of the Shrew is (which the Shakespeare Theatre Company is currently trying to “solve” by employing an all-male cast)—no mean feat for something written in the 21st century. But it’s played with warmth and humor, and that’s enough.
Through June 12.1333 H St. NE. $20–$60. (202) 399-7993. atlasarts.org.