Arizona Theatre Company Production Examines Class, Race, Sorrow and Hope
By Kathleen Allen. Originally published by the Arizona Daily Star.
Who knew that a play that centers around women’s lingerie could deeply examine class, race, love, deep sorrow and deep hope.
That’s exactly what Intimate Apparel does. Arizona Theatre Company is staging the Lynn Nottage play, inspired by her great grandmother who was a seamstress. And you don’t want to miss it.
It is 1904 New York City and Esther (a lyrical Tracey N. Bonner) is at her sewing machine in a room in a boarding house for Black women run by the sassy and bossy Mrs. Dickson (Saundra McClain shimmied into the skin of the character). It is there that she creates intricate and seductive lingerie for customers as varied as Mrs. Van Buren, an upper East Side society matron ignored by her husband and longing for touch (achingly portrayed by Dawn Cantwell), and Mayme, a $2 hooker from the Tenderloin (feisty and funny Sarah Hollis).
Mrs. Van Buren, who wants the same racy underwear as Mayme, considers Esther a friend, but won’t allow her to come through her front door. Mayme, who is a friend, wants the same underwear as the society lady and Esther can come to the apartment any old way she wants.
Esther is 35 and unmarried, much to her chagrin. But she is resigned and has been saving money for years so she can open a beauty parlor for Black women. She keeps it sewn into the colorful quilt that tops her lonely bed.
But when she surprisingly receives a letter from a Barbados native working to build the Panama Canal, things begin to shift. George’s letters are poetic and seductive. Esther can’t read so she has her friends read them and respond. Corey Jones is a presence on stage and gave us a George who is both gruff and tender.
Another relationship is between Esther and Mr. Marks, the Orthodox Jew who sells her material for her garments. They share a relationship of mutual respect and unspoken desire. You can feel the longing and ache in Aaron Cammack’s hands. He and Esther clearly have love, but it can never be.
A desire for intimacy in friendship, love, sex, touch and talk is haunting.
And the absence of that intimacy is just as haunting.
Director Oz Scott made sure the resiliency and hope in this story is just as powerful as the harsh and heartbreaking moments.
The set by Alexander Dodge brought us into turn-of-the-last-century New York with an impressive backdrop of the city. Scenes moved seamlessly between the three bedrooms on the set, each with a distinct personality.
And the costumes by Karen Perry were exquisite, often racy and always spot on for the character.
Nottage is a poetic writer and a powerful storyteller. ATC gives her play the production it deserves.