‘Intimate Apparel’ addresses racial, social and cultural history
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 00:11
Connecticut Repertory Theatre opened Friday night in the Studio Theatre with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynne Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel.” The play takes place in 1905 Manhattan, following the story of 35-year-old African-American seamstress Esther Mills. Esther is concerned about her prospects for marriage, as she considers herself not only physically unattractive but also past the age where one is likely to get married. Though she develops a friendship with her fabric merchant, an immigrant Jew, she eventually weds a West Indian laborer whom she has been exchanging letters with over the months.
“Intimate Apparel” is advertised as exploring racial, social and cultural divides. Esther is friends with both a prostitute from New York’s most popular red-light district and a socialite who lives on Fifth Avenue. Mayme the prostitute is played by Briana Maia, a junior BFA actor. She was able to bring something new to the concept of the “whore with a heart of gold.” Her portrayal of the character gave her depth and complexity that such roles seldom have. The socialite, Mrs. Van Buren, is played by Alyson Danielczuk, also a junior BFA actor. Her performance was believably oblivious to the nature of racial and class divides for the majority of the play, though the twist on her character in the second act confused me. It seemed to come out of nowhere, moreover, was never elaborated or explained further after the scene.
Harrison Howard Haney, a junior BFA actor, and Colby Lewis, a second year MFA actor, played the parts of Esther’s love interests. Haney played the part of Mr. Marks, a Jewish fabric merchant who develops a close friendship with Esther is never able to explore the idea of more, but because of his religion. Lewis played the part of George Armstrong, the laborer who wins Esther’s heart in the first act with his letters. Haney’s portrayal of Marks’s awkwardness around Esther was very well done, and Lewis’s performance was suitably dramatic.
The part of Esther’s closest friend and landlady, Mrs. Dickson, was played by sophomore BFA actor Whitney Andrews. Mrs. Dickson doubled as a mother figure and Andrews was able to showcase the genuine concern of 18 years of friendship. Esther was played by Khetanya Henderson, a 2nd year MFA actor. Though she stumbled over a few lines, Henderson successfully portrayed Esther as an otherwise confident, competent woman whose only insecurity lay in her physical appearance.
“I thought the actors did a good job,” said David Furnes, a 7th-semester computer science major. “But I didn’t really like the play itself. The plot was slow and there were times where I didn’t feel the characters reacted to situations in believable ways.”
Ultimately, “Intimate Apparel” is a character-driven play that relies heavily on the interactions between its characters to entertain. The drama fits nicely with the background setting and it does address the issues that African-Americans and women faced at that time in history. If you like social history and theater, I recommend you see CRT’s production of “Intimate Apparel.”