An American Play

posted by Cori Thomas, Playwright, When January Feels Like Summer

As her play When January Feels Like Summer enters the first few days after its world premiere opening, playwright Cori Thomas reflects on the genesis of the play, the influence of her own upbringing on the writing, and what City Theatre’s audience showed her about her own play.

A few years ago I was riding the subway in NYC.  I reluctantly sat across from two young African American men who were conducting a raucous, ungrammatical, passionate conversation about a young woman’s teeth.  My immediate reaction was to want to move away, but something stopped me and made me listen to them instead.  I learned from listening that they were speaking from a place of great concern and affection for the young woman in question.  It made me think about how the world would be if we all did what I did that day and took the time to really see, especially in the communities where we live and pass by everyday.  It also made me think about immigrants new to living in this country and how invisible they can seem to the dominant culture.  Finally, it made me think of stereotypes and how we make decisions about a person’s character and worthiness based on the “outer” face they show the world–and how rarely we look past just what we see initially.  This is where this play began.  I have attempted to put five characters we might not usually see in a play together and it is my hope that, by the end, the audience will grow to care about them all, as I grew to care about the two young men I saw on the train that day. 

I am the American-born daughter of two foreign-born parents.  At age 5, my family took me from my home in the United States to grow up living and attending schools in the various foreign countries where my father, a diplomat,  was stationed.  This experience helps me give voice to my foreign characters that are not regularly seen in American theatre.  By placing these foreign-born characters in the same world as the Americans, by having them share the same quests, hopes, and dreams, and by having them live side by side in the same community, I want to begin to contribute to the American theatre in the multi-cultural language that reflects the world I grew up in, and the world we all live in.

I hope that by the end of the play, the audience will understand that, whatever one’s race, gender, or nationality, we are all humans with feelings who share a common need for understanding and love. My purpose is to reveal the complex layers that make up these five people whom one might not normally see as having anything in common. I aim for the play to be seen as multi-layered in structure, form, and style, in much the same way that its characters are multi-dimensional. What might appear to the audience on the surface as simply a comedy whose only goal is to make the audience laugh ought to reveal itself to be more complex and dramatic as the stories develop.

I had one reading of this play at City Theatre (in Momentum 08). The experience was illuminating and inspiring. Seeing the play outside New York City, I discovered that what I thought was a “New York” play is really an American play. The feedback from the audience after the reading confirmed this for me. I am excited and moved by the opportunity to complete the development of this play at City Theatre.

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