When the curtains first open on Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, onstage now at Playmakers Repertory Company under the direction of Raelle Myrick-Hodges, the audience is introduced to 35 year old Esther (Rasool Jahan) and immersed into the world she has created for herself stitch-by-stitch.
Esther is an African-American seamstress, a maker of “intimate apparel” for women, living in 1905 Manhattan. From the beginning, as Esther sulks over her unmarried status, she proves to be a well-written character, one that is likeable, strong, funny, and believable, and she remains so throughout this powerful, deeply moving, and highly engaging production.
The story moves quickly, allowing the audience to get to know Esther through her interactions with others. The audience follows her as she makes risqué lingerie for and interacts with both a rich white woman, Mrs. Van Buren (Allison Altman), and a prostitute, Mayme (Shanelle Nicole Leonard). And, as the setting moves from Mrs. Van Buren’s fifth avenue home to Mayme’s saloon/brothel to Esther’s small room, not much changes in the actual set, though Hodge’s careful direction and the use of projected backdrops allow each setting to feel different and unique, making very effective use of PRC’s intimate performance space.
As the setting changes and the conversation flows, the audience learns much about Esther and the script’s other beautifully-written characters. Esther yearns for romantic love, while Mrs. Van Buren laments over her own disastrous marriag,e and Mayme disavows the idea of love in general. In these instances, and in others peppered throughout this wonderfully complex, multi-layered script, parallels in relationships and in the character’s lives are subtly and beautifully evidenced.
The story itself picks up steam when Esther begins sending letters, with the help of both Mayme and Mrs. Van Buren, to George Armstrong (Myles Bullock), a man working on the Panama Canal. The letters, which quickly turn romantic, serve to give hope to Esther, though she is warned about the dangers of such “love” by her long-time friend and landlady, Mrs. Dickson (Kathryn Hunter-Williams).
Further complicating matters is the growing romantic interest between Esther and a Jewish merchant, Mr. Marks (Benjamin Curns). Separated by race and religion, a union between the two seems unlikely though the chemistry is certainly there. Curns, who creates a bumbling, sweet, and utterly lovable version of Mr. Marks, plays well off of Jahan’s strong portrayal of Esther, making their interactions some of the best the production has to offer…though all of them are powerful in their own right.
Altman’s sometimes-silly, sometimes-sad portrayal of Mrs. Van Buren, Leonard’s giggling-but-hopeful portrayal of Mayme, and Hunter-Williams’ no-nonsense-but-loving portrayal of Mrs. Dickson all work together, along with Nottage’s perfect dialogue, to create characters that move in and out of Esther’s life and interact with her in believable, touching, and unforgettable ways. There is never a dull moment with this tight script and even tighter direction. These are characters that jump off the stage and conversations that are fully immersive, all adding up to an incredibly moving story that will have viewers feeling for these characters and rooting for them, in their own rights, each step of the way.
While there are a few directorial touches, mostly those done for comedic effect via sexual innuendo, that are too unsubtle for this liltingly-written piece, the cast members and the perfectly-flawed characters they represent more than make up for any imperfections that exist. And, though there are some gut-wrenching, hard-to-watch moments along the way as this true-to-life story completes its course, the ending is ultimately one of hope, strength, and self-empowerment, making this a show that is as much about life as it is about anything and, thus, one that all viewers can relate to.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents INTIMATE APPAREL at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and 3, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4, 2 p.m. Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7-11, and 2 p.m. Feb. 12 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$48 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJlOrpvoyUM.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be a FREE post-show discussion, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5th, performance.
NOTE 3: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7th (for more information, click here).
NOTE 4: The North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show Mindplay psychoanalytic discussions on “The Hidden Worlds of Intimate Apparel,” led by Peter Buonaccorsi, MD, after the show’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12th, performances.
Intimate Apparel (2003 Baltimore and 2004 Off-Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3444 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/3088 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intimate_Apparel_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
Lynn Nottage (Brooklyn, NY playwright): http://www.lynnnottage.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/3672 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://twitter.com/Lynnbrooklyn (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Nottage (Wikipedia).
The Script: https://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.guthrietheater.org/sites/default/files/intimate_apparel.pdf (courtesy Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis, MN).
Raelle Myrick-Hodges (director): https://playmakersrep.org/artists/raelle-myrick-hodges/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5552157/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/raellemyrickhodges (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.