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Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel at PlayMakers Rep Is a Story About Intimacy, Not Lingerie — About Hopes, Longing, and Pain

Intimate Apparel stars Rasool Jahan and Myles Bullock as Esther and George (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Intimate Apparel stars Rasool Jahan and Myles Bullock as Esther and George (photo by Jon Gardiner)

As the name suggests, Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage is a very personal drama about love and relationships, hope, desire, and dreams. It follows the story of Esther, played by Rasool Jahan in the current PlayMakers Repertory Company production, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges. Esther is a hardworking yet plain African-American seamstress who creates fashionable lingerie for the high (and low) society of New York in 1905.

While Esther watches those around her indulging themselves with her fine creations, she lives a simple life in a boardinghouse. She saves every penny to open a salon for African-American women, who rarely had a place to go to be pampered.

At 35 years old, Esther longs to find love; but she figures that marriage is not in the cards for her. She has a strong, unspoken connection with the Jewish fabric salesman, Mr. Marks (Benjamin Curns); but they both know that his religion and her skin color will keep them apart.

Esther accepts her situation stoically, however; and she starts corresponding with George (Myles Bullock), a laborer working on the construction of the Panama Canal. His flowery letters stoke the flame of hope in her heart.

Allison Altman (left) and Rasool Jahan star as Mrs. van Buren and Esther (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Allison Altman (left) and Rasool Jahan star as Mrs. van Buren and Esther (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Since Esther can neither read nor write, she enlists the help of one of her high-society clients, Mrs. van Buren (Allison Altman), to assist her. Will Esther truly find love and reach her dreams?

Mrs. Dickson (Kathryn Hunter-Williams), the widow who owns the boardinghouse who took Esther in as a young woman and who taught her to sew, urges Esther not to correspond with the man from Panama. Ms. van Buren encourages her. Mayme (Shanelle Nicole Leonard), a call-girl with dreams of her own, also assists with the letters.

We learn about each of the characters’ hopes and hardships. While most of the characters struggle to get by, even Ms. van Buren’s heart aches for more.

Junghyun Georgia Lee’s set is gorgeous. Tufted velvet chairs on several levels convey the highs and lows of society. A table with Esther’s sewing machines sits close to the audience, yet apart from the rest of the stage. It hints at Esther’s isolation and how her sewing machine and hard work are the center of her world.

Rasool Jahan (left) and Benjamin Curns star as Esther and Mr. Marks (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Rasool Jahan (left) and Benjamin Curns star as Esther and Mr. Marks (photo by Jon Gardiner)

The backdrop for this PRC presentation of Intimate Apparel is the façade of a multistory tenement building, a white bank of windows and shades; and it is creatively used as a movie screen to show historic black-and-white scenes from Panama and New York in the early 1900s. In this way, the audience can feel the essence of the letters that Esther and George write to one another as their courtship progresses. As George reads his letters, and his character drifts in and out of the scene, we feel as if we are envisioning just what Esther must have been envisioning while reading George’s missives.

From The Department of Picky-Picky: When George asks Esther for money to go purchase a hat, it appeared that it was modern currency. But that’s a very minor distraction in what is a stellar production.

Costume designer Bobbi Owen’s period costumes are gorgeous. There are lots of corsets and lace, satin, and wool. It is a testament to the Owen’s artistry that the production remains tastefully PG-rated.

Even though the show’s protagonist makes intimate apparel for women, this play is really a story about intimacy, not lingerie. It’s about hopes and pain, longing and life’s gritty reality. You will be thinking about Esther long after the curtain falls.

Rasool Jahan (left) and Shanelle Nicole Leonard star as Esther and Mayme (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Rasool Jahan (left) and Shanelle Nicole Leonard star as Esther and Mayme (photo by Jon Gardiner)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 30th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) review by Keaton Eberly:; Jan. 25th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods:; Jan. 23rd Raleigh, NC preview by Jessica Patrick for “What’s on Tap”:; and Jan. 19th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: (Note: You must subscribe to read this article). (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 24th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents INTIMATE APPAREL at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 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, except $15 general admission ($10 for students with ID) on Community Night (Tuesday, Jan. 31st).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529),, or


PRESENTER:,,,, and

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage):



NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be an All-Access Performance, with sign-language interpretation and audio description by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 31st.

NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1st, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5th, performances.

NOTE 4: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7th (for more information, click here).

NOTE 5: 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): (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Lynn Nottage (Brooklyn, NY playwright): (official website), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Twitter page), and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (courtesy Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis, MN).

Raelle Myrick-Hodges (director): (PlayMakers Rep bio), (Internet Movie Database), and (Facebook page).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews