WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER: Debargo Sanyal, on playing the beautifully complex Indira
For seven years, Debargo Sanyal has seen the development and evolution of the beautifully complex character, Indira, in When January Feels Like Summer. His career as an actor is extensive (acting opposite of Robert De Niro is no small feat), and Debargo has given full life to this character. Debargo has graciously described his journey with this marvelous play.
After the success of When January Feels Like Summer, how does it feel to have the play come back for another New York run?
Debargo: I am quite happy that When January Feels Like Summer has returned this fall. We had such a terrific time doing those initial twenty-six performances during the final weeks of spring. The response to our run was so overwhelmingly warm and loving and heartfelt that we all started to hope that the journey with this production could somehow continue beyond that time. So, it feels really great that, after getting to recharge our batteries over the summer, we will be bringing it back to the stage this fall.
What has been the most rewarding part about this production?
Debargo: There are a number of rewarding things about being in this particular production. One is that I love my cast mates– they are all such wonderful scene partners to play with every night on stage. Another is that I have been associated with this play/role for quite a while now, so it is very gratifying that this New York premiere full production is finally actually happening at all–especially considering that this play is very much a NYC play, set in the heart of Harlem. Another major reward is the beautiful energy we get from audiences who are loving the experience of receiving the show as much as we are loving the experience of presenting it to them.
You’ve been playing Ishan/Indira off and on for seven years, both in New York and in Pittsburgh. How have you seen the character develop, both through rewrites and even for yourself as an actor?
Debargo: I first played this role in the very first public reading presentation on September 28, 2007, right here on this very stage at EST, as part of their ‘Going to the River’ Festival…and then again, nine months later, on June 15, 2008, in the second-ever public reading presentation, which was at City Theatre in Pittsburgh, as part of their ‘Momentum’ Festival…and then, twenty months after that, in Feb-April 2010, for the world premiere full production back at City Theatre in Pittsburgh…and then, six months after that, on October 17, 2010, in a reading at the New Black Fest in Brooklyn… and then, three-and-a-half years after that, we commenced rehearsals for this current NY premiere full production at EST. Every step of the way, there have, of course, been helpful edits and rewrites that have affected the development of all five characters in the script. Cori Thomas is a smart playwright, and she has been able to find great ways to clarify and streamline things in the story without sacrificing the unique core of what she had built in to her script from day one. As for me, personally, I know that I have certainly changed/grown/evolved as an artist (and, well, as a human being) over the past seven years–and I would like to believe that it has somehow resulted in a more interesting portrayal of ‘Indira’, a character that I have grown incredibly fond of.
What has been the most challenging thing about playing a character like Ishan/Indira?
Debargo: Hair removal.
How has the experience in Pittsburgh to NYC been different? Either audience reaction, overall success, general sentiments… etc.
Debargo: The experiences in Pittsburgh and NYC have felt quite different. Four full years elapsed in between our world premiere full production in Pittsburgh and this New York premiere full production at EST. In Pittsburgh, my four wonderful castmates were Gita Reddy & John Marshall Jones & Joshua Elijah Reese & Carter Redwood, and our director was the wonderful Chuck Patterson; here in NYC, my four awesome castmates are Mahira Kakkar & Dion Graham & Maurice Williams & J Mallory McCree (and now again Carter Redwood) and our fantastic director is Daniella Topol. While it has been a rather unique and unfamiliar experience to perform the same play/role with a completely new set of collaborators and with such a large time gap in-between regional and NYC productions, it has also, ultimately, been a valuable learning experience that has taught me a lot. With each new collaborator comes a new energy and a new way of looking at the characters and story, and that has turned out to be quite informative over the years. And, of course, the main unifying entity throughout it all has been this beautiful script (and its talented playwright, who I am very glad invited me along on this seven-year journey).
Ishan/Indira is a rather fiesty character with some great lines. Do you have a favorite?
Debargo: I don’t really have a single favorite line, per se. I guess my favorite thing about almost everything that comes out of Indira’s mouth is that it is usually coming from a very brave place of eagerly embracing huge (and necessary) life changes at all costs. She knows exactly what she (and, sometimes others, like her sister) must do in order to find love and happiness, and she makes a very conscious choice to not be afraid to doggedly pursue this, no matter what anyone else may think… sometimes this lands her in humorous situations, and sometimes it lands her in rather serious ones… but, regardless, she always has the guts to really go for it. I genuinely admire that about Indira.
You’ve worked on some incredible projects in the past, both on stage and film. Do you have any advice for young artists looking to break into the theatrical scene?
Debargo: Be unique. Be informed. Be personable. And have a thick skin (…that you, like, moisturize as well.)
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from theatre, either from When January Feels Like Summer or even beyond?
Debargo: Life, like theatre, is a team sport. You could try to do it alone, but that’s just not nearly as much fun…playing well with others is much more interesting and enlightening and gratifying… and it does require more work sometimes… but it is usually so worth it (or, at the very least, it can make for a good story later).
For more information about the production, visit When January Feels Like Summer’s page.