Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Intimate Apparel"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"Intimate Apparel"

by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Heather Fry

Production Managers Sandi McDonald & Susan Harrington
Set Design by Ronald L. Dione
Quilter Philip B. Russo
Lighting Design by Jonathan Bonner
Lighting Assistant Gill Willis johnson
Light Board Operator Dee Crawford
Costume Design by Kimmerie H. O. Jones
Props by Ronald L. Dion & Susan Harrington
Sound Design by Tracy Sullivan, Heather Fry
Sound Board Mario Salinas
Piano Recordings Selected by Mario Cruz
Assistant Stage Manager Dosha Beard
Production Stage Manager Tracy Sullivan

Esther............F. Zandra Bennett
Mrs. Dickson..........Carmen Dillon
Mrs. Van Buren...Nicole Prefontaine
Mr. Marks..............Tom Giordano
Mayme.............Lyndsay Allyn Cox
George.................Frank Onuoha

The title "Intimate Apparel" suggests a frothy farce, but Lynn Nottage's play is really a delicate glimpse into Negro Harlem at the turn of the century, when corsetry was noticing colors and fabrics in the French mode, and a woman could spend so much of her daily life at a sewing-machine making them as to face being 35 and a spinster --- and longing to be "courted." Esther (F. Zandra Bennett) sells her nimble-fingered finery to a rich, bored White wife (Nicole Prefontaine) and a piano-playing prostitute (Lyndsay Allyn Cox) [Two dollars was a high price for anything back then] who both help her writing and reading letters exchanged with a Barbadan (Franklin Onuoha) hip-deep in the muck and disease of digging the Panama Canal. There's rag-time in the background, romance in the air, and hesitant honest confessions and intimate advice in the three women's bedrooms on Ronald L. Dion's four-level set. Despite the "deshabille" which includes boots and bloomers, the mood of the show is quiet, intimate innocence discovering and dealing with realities.

Esther is reluctant to play for an old, fat, silent admirer that her motherly landlady (Carmen Dillon) recommends, but she listens to this mentor's advice on marriage and the subserviance necessary to the office of Wife in those times. Her pleasant professional confidant, though, is an Orthodox Jew (played by Tom Giordano) selling bolts and yards of Scottish woolens and hand-embroidered Japanese silks from his walk-up apartment --- from which he can see a crass competitor store stealing his customers with free tonic-water. He is someone she can share a love of good, colorful fabric, but of course he has a fiancee (though he's never met her) in The Old Country, and, of course, Esther's Black.

Ron Dion's set is almost as festooned and furbelowed as Kimmerie H. O. Jones' costumes (or the colorful quilts by Philip B. Russo that will be auctioned to benefit the charity My Sister's Keeper). Both are back in Boston after stints elsewhere, out of "retirement" and at work they (and I) love. Odd how professional the techies in "amateur" theater seem, isn't it?

I saw this play on Final Dress with several empty seats where critics had been expected, and I wondered how this unevenly experienced Community Theater cast would react to the full opening-night audience they'd face the next night. Some seemed intimately but quitely talking to one another, almost as though expecting t-v cameras to catch their nuances. Pacing seemed slow, especially in shadowy scene-shifts when actors might have worried about footing on the stairs. But their director is the thoroughly professional award-winning Heather Fry, and I'm confident of her expertise. This is a show I'd like to see again three weeks from now, when they have all learned to deal with that last member of the cast: The Audience.


"Intimate Apparel" (30 January - 14 February)

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide