Blog About the Play — “Intimate Apparel”
Jan 25, 2024

About the Play — “Intimate Apparel”

Esther has spent years with her head down, working as a seamstress designing intimate apparel for women from all walks of life. They come with secrets and romances that she could only imagine. But now, one letter launches the beginning of her own adventure. Esther’s landlady, Mrs. Dickson, delivers the letter from a man named George from Panama. A swarm of questions buzz in her head. Who is George? What has he written? And most of all why has he written to her? The mystery and excitement are more than she can bear.

She finds that the rigorous endeavor of building the Panama Canal has left George lonely and longing for a connection beyond the trenches of his work. For a moment, Esther is hesitant to write back, but with encouragement from her clients, she responds. A series of exchanged letters grows into much more than a simple connection between pen pals as George courts her. For years, Esther has counted herself out of the game of love. Her only correspondence with a man has been with Mr. Marks, her fabric supplier. Their bond over fine fabrics is unique and touching. Even so, societal pressures and cultural traditions limit their ability to make it anything more than a friendship. Plus, after more than a decade of watching young women around her get married off, the promise of a marriage for her became implausible. So, she sewed up her hopes and dreams and began to save money to build a beauty shop for black women like herself.  

However, as George makes his way to the United States, a new dream emerges. Esther can finally see a world outside of Mrs. Dickson’s boarding house. It’s her turn to be whisked off into the sunset. It’s her turn to be wanted. It’s her turn to wear intimate apparel. The anticipation of George’s arrival sets Esther’s heart ablaze. She wonders for a moment if she’s made a hasty decision but finds confidence in the undeniable feeling in her heart. She is in love, and someone is in love with her.

As Esther’s life changes rapidly, what does she truly want? Will George be the man of her dreams? Will all her hard work and sacrifice finally pay off?  

Brought to life from the inspiration of a single photo, Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel gives voice to the voiceless. While cleaning out her grandmother’s things, Nottage came upon a picture of her grandmother holding two children. The image sparked a series of questions never to be answered. With her mother gone and her grandmother barely conscious, she was left to put the pieces together herself. She knew her grandmother was a seamstress and that she was married to a Barbadian immigrant and that was it. Thus, by way of building out her grandmother’s story, Intimate Apparel was born.

The only female playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize twice (Ruined, 2009 and Sweat, 2017), Lynn Nottage is one of the most prolific authors in our industry. She has also received a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical for MJ: The Musical. Her résumé ranges from plays and musicals to film and television. Intimate Apparel has even been adapted for the Opera. Her fearless commentary on race, the working class, and ambitions in the United States have made Nottage one of the most acclaimed playwrights of our day. With new perspectives and stories at the center of her work, she often inspires meaningful conversations about how we treat ourselves … and one another.  

For ATC’s production of Intimate Apparel, Nottage’s words will be under the care of acclaimed director Oz Scott. With his career rooted in theatre and directing some of the greatest television hits (Psych, 90210, Black-ish, Scream, and Disney’s The Cheetah Girls), Scott brings a wealth of knowledge and artistry to the ATC stage. We can assure you this is not your typical love story. This show is sure to be another catalyst for important conversations and get you thinking about what you’re willing to sacrifice for love. And then think again. Above all, is it worth it?