Everyman Theatre brings Lynn Nottage’s play “Intimate Apparel” home to Baltimore. First performed and co-commissioned at Baltimore’s Center Stage 14 years ago, audiences again have the opportunity to be captivated and intimately absorbed in the life of an African-American woman at the turn of the 20th century.
Masterly directed by Tazewell Thompson, “Intimate Apparel” peels back the outer layers and digs deep to expose raw feelings of love, loss and betrayal. Thirty-five-year-old Esther (Dawn Ursula) takes us on this journey by way of New York City in 1905 as a talented seamstress living in a boarding house and longing for her own beauty shop.
…this very intimate peek is a guaranteed pleasurable night out.
At the opening of the play, Esther is focused only on her goal of her beauty shop. Sewing intimate apparel for jaded rich women and prostitutes, she saves all the money she can and sews it into a quilt to pay for her own shop. Esther’s focus begins to waver when she receives a letter from a Panama Canal laborer from Barbados named George Armstrong (Bueka Uwemedimo). Because Esther cannot read or write, she enlists the help of Mrs. Van Buren (Beth Hylton) to write letters back to George. Mrs. Van Buren, who is unhappy in her society marriage and with her inability to have a child, soon finds herself swept up in the love growing between George and Esther. Esther also confides in Mayme (Jade Wheeler), a ragtime piano player and prostitute with whom she has struck up an unlikely friendship.
The more Esther opens herself up to love and friendship, the more these relationships become disappointing and wounding. Some of the most unexpectedly intimate moments of the play were between Esther and Mr. Marks (Drew Kopas). Mr. Marks is a Romanian-born, Orthodox Jewish fabric merchant whose religion doesn’t allow him even to remove his topcoat in front of a woman he is not married to. When Esther impulsively runs her hand down Mr. Marks’ back, knowing full well it is forbidden for him to touch anyone who is not his wife, we witness a thrilling tiny piece of Esther’s need for love and touch.
Dawn Ursula as Esther is magnificent. Ursula’s subtlety reveals cracks in her single-mindedness armor as she is swayed toward love, but the way Ursula’s Esther is broken and pulled together again carries the show.
Bueka Uwemedimo’s George lights up the stage with his swagger and his bold, accented language. George’s true character is soon revealed as something altogether different, but Uwemedimo still commands the stage.
Although Mrs. Van Buren is living with her own pain, Beth Hylton is a bright light on the stage; Hylton, as always, is a delight to watch. Jade Wheeler’s Mayme oozes sexuality and confidence. Drew Kopas as Mr. Marks is the most honest in his feelings, and it easily shows through his earnest facial expressions and movements. Jenn Walker is great as Mrs. Dickson, the boarding house owner with stern and truthful demeanor.
David Burdick’s beautiful intimate apparel costumes are amazing and wonderfully constructed. Donald Eastman’s set is simple with its white walls but brilliant for the changing scenes and locations, which pairs well with Stephen Quandt lighting design.
“Apparel” allows us to gaze into many diverse people’s lives and this very intimate peek is a guaranteed pleasurable night out.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“Intimate Apparel” runs through November 19, 2017. Click here for tickets.