Friday, October 24, 2014 | By | When January Feels Like Summer | Comment

In Her Words: Mahira Kakkar talks Nirmala, her character in WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER.

Nirmala Collage

The intricate nature of When January Feels Like Summer creates a complex reality with multifaceted characters to match. Mahira Kakkar plays one of these parts, Nirmala, a struggling wife and business owner trying to keep tradition of her native India alive while satisfying her own needs.

What has been the most rewarding part about this production?

I don’t know if I can focus on any one single thing. I have worked with Daniella Topol (the director) before, and getting to work with her again was a gift. I got to work with a dear friend of mine – Debargo Sanyal – and got exposed to three other super smart actors. I love that audiences responded to the character Debargo played with empathy. I am thrilled that so many people come to see the show. What really moved me was when some people who weren’t regular theatre goers came, young people whose story was basically being represented on stage, and they loved it.

What has been the most challenging part of playing Nirmala? 

I think finding her steel and vulnerability was challenging. She’s a stronger, smarter woman than I am, and so I had to think of her in those terms and find her. Playing opposite Debargo, who is basically a comic genius, is also hard, because I often want to laugh at the things he does, and Nirmala might not find them as amusing.

Nirmala gathers a lot of strength in order to manage a business by herself, support her brother, and care for her husband. Where do you think this strength comes from? 

Nirmala’s pretty businesslike and strong, yes. I think she feels she has to be – she has a lot of things to take care of. Duty and loyalty I think are important to her – more so than personal happiness perhaps. Put another way, it’s a kind of love that she might have grown up with – love as action, as doing, as being there when the chips are down – though I’m pretty sure this is my way of thinking. I know women like Nirmala who would roll their eyes if I were to use language like this in front of them.

How has your own personal background influenced your work in When January Feels Like Summer, since you and Nirmala both grew up in India?

I have had the good fortune to meet and interact with women like Nirmala, for whom family, duty and tradition are paramount. Smart, very capable women who choose every day to fulfill what they think are their responsibilities. I think mostly the accent work comes easily to me, because of my background. I think women like Nirmala exist everywhere in the world, in different cultures.

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? 

Don’t give up, have faith in yourself, take the long line, try and be kind to everyone including yourself, write your hate lists in pencil (the late Ms. Joan Rivers said that last one), work harder than you think you can, give over to this thing you love. Also, know that everything will work out and that you will be just fine. That’s my truth.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from theatre, either from When January Feels Like Summer or even beyond?

I’m part of a great tradition – what I do contributes a little bit to the tapestry – so I have to do my work well, but also know that without other people around me, supporting the story, it wouldn’t happen.  I think I’m talking about respect for the artist/craftsperson in myself and in other people. It’s also really fun and joyous, and it should be. I think that that’s right, it is ok, warranted and necessary to feel joy in this often brutal world. Oh, and also to drink lots of water.

For more information about the production, visit When January Feels Like Summer’s page.

Friday, October 17, 2014 | By | When January Feels Like Summer | Comment

WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER: Debargo Sanyal, on playing the beautifully complex Indira


Left to right: Debargo Sanyal as himself and as the character 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 characterDebargo 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.