Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of A Raisin in the Sun
Under the precise direction of Dawn Loveland Navarro, Intimate Apparel is ultimately a celebration of being true to oneself and to having the courage to take chances in one's life, whatever the outcome. The playwright has written a host of other interesting characters surrounding Esther and all of them have been superbly cast. This is a deeply satisfying and pleasurable presentation of Lynn Nottage's play and is most definitely worth checking out.
The play begins with Esther living in a New York boardinghouse for women and eventually developing a relationship of sorts, writing letters to a man named George Armstrong who lives in the Caribbean. At the age of thirty-five, Esther makes a good living from sewing intimate apparel for other women, but she runs the risk of becoming an "old maid," since she has never married. Consequently, when the Caribbean man proposes to her in a letter, she accepts, despite the concerns of the people in her life who care about her. Not to give too much more of the plot away, but things don't quite work out the way she would hope.
One of the strongest aspects of Lynn Nottage's play is the range and the depth of the characters; just about all of them are much more than they at first seem. As Mrs. Dickson, Esther's landlady at the boarding house, Xenia Gray gives a warm and touching performance and it is evident at first glance how deeply Mrs. Dickson cares about Esther's future. Also doing well is Zuri Eshun as Mayme, a prostitute in the Tenderloin for whom Esther sews various garments. Mayme, despite her profession, is also a friend and this lovely actress imbues the role with humor and an almost unexpected sense of tenderness. Anna Laura Strider endows the role of Mrs. Van Buren, the high society white woman for whom Esther makes corsets, with a great deal of delight, especially in the woman's assistance in helping Esther (who is illiterate) write letters to George. Mrs. Van Buren is most certainly full of surprises, as well.
As for the men in Esther's life, Beethovan Oden is, by turns, loving and hurtful as Esther's husband George, and Oden can be commended for not being afraid to display all of George's traits and flaws. However, it the character of Mr. Marks, a Jewish man who runs a fabric shop, who perhaps makes the most profound effect on Esther's life. Ben MacLaughlin does a terrific job of portraying this sympathetic character, and his scenes with Darlene Hope as Esther are filled with a combined sense of joy and longing.
Of course, without the right actress to play the central role, the play would never begin to work so well. In this production, Darlene Hope is everything you could ask for as Esther and she brings such a complex array of feelings to her part that one can't help but root for her and hope that everything will turn out alright. Another quality the playwright brings to this character is her sheer happiness of sewing, and how it fills her with a purpose and a livelihood.
Marcus Abbott has designed the ideal set, with many different playing areas designated on the theatre's small stage, in addition to providing the expert lighting design. Costume designer Kate Bunce provides such an extensive and beautiful array of colors and textures in the costumes and fabrics that it is almost a cause for rejoicing.
Indeed, Intimate Apparel, as a whole, is most definitely celebratory, with Lynn Nottage's expertise as a writer and Dawn Loveland Navarro's gift for direction proving to be a perfect match. Playhouse on Park has come up aces in staging Intimate Apparel.
Intimate Apparel, through March 4, 2018, at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford CT. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.