The first time I saw “Intimate Apparel”by Lynn Nottage was in 2004 at the South Coast Repertory Theatre. I loved it then and I love it even better today. It was then the most produced play of the year back then and if I had my druthers, it still should be.
To its credits are the 2004 NY Drama Critics Circle and Outer Circle Awards for best play. It received the John Gassner Award, 2004 Drama Desk, Obie and American Theatre Critics Steinberg 2004 New Play Award. And… it’s playing here in San Diego/Carlsbad at New Village Arts Theatre through Oct. 20th.
|Gerilyn Brault, Cashae Monya and Tamara McMillian|
Its portrait is one of an uneducated African American woman who, at the turn of the century (1905) makes ‘intimate apparel’ for the rich and restless socialites of the upper class New York Society as well as for the prostitutes in the Tenderloin District. It's also a tapestry whose story is woven through the lives of those who are trapped in their own cultures, customs and societal ways.
With a well- seasoned and well rounded/excellent cast splendidly directed by Melissa Coleman Reed, Tamara McMillian as Esther Mills daughter of former slaves is at its center. Esther is so talented and with a well deserved reputation, that unhappy in her marriage, socialite Mrs. Van Buren (Gerilyn Brault), takes her in her confidence and almost falls in love. From the rich and famous to the lower echelons she is also seamstress to her friend Mayme, (Cashae Monya) a high- class prostitute whose conquests are shared.
Esther is well respected and yes, loved from afar by Mr. Marks, (a wonderfully nuanced Tom Steward), the Orthodox Jew who sells Esther his most treasured fabrics of imported silks from which she makes her cherished items.
Theirs is a hands off love affair that takes place right under their noses but as religious and cultural restraints forbid their closeness they continue their business relationship with a tension as thick as an entire bolt of fabric. Brilliant in her comparison’s, playwright Nottage places them on a parallel playing field; both are unwed waiting for mail order spouses to arrive and fulfill their marital obligations. And both share a love of beautiful and expensive fabrics.
She is thirty -five and does not have ‘her own man’; she has no one to really connect with. She begins a correspondence, although she neither reads nor writes, with George Armstrong, (Taurian McCleod) a West Indian on the Panama Canal construction crew, who would very much love to come to New York and marry her. She is elated and in her loneliness convinces herself that she’s in love.
Her landlady, Mrs. Dickerson, (Milena (Sellers) Phillips) who owns the boarding house Esther has lived in since she arrived in New York, has concerns about George’s motives but not enough to shake Esther’s happiness. Esther takes a leap of faith, very much out of character, that leads to a predictable disaster in Act II.
|Tamara McMillian and Tom Steward|
Under Coleman Reed’s solid direction and with poignant and oh so natural acting, Ms. McMillian gives us a accurate portrayal of a woman’s restraint, elation, surprise, disappointment and finally resignation. She is easygoing yet poised as Esther threads her way through what should be a most happy time in her life to the worse case scenario.
Cashae Monya shows her excellence as a most talented and versatile actor as the high class, jazz playing prostitute who shares secrets and an occasional drink with her friend Esther. Her portrayal of Mayme is both funny and painful as she cleans down herself after having sex in what might be called a whores bath, and then dabs her self with talc.
Taurian McLeod cuts quite a dashing figure of transformation from laborer to play boy while Steward is able to subtly move his character from an Orthodox, hands off Jew to a more cautious and daring suitor.
|Taurian McLeod and Tamara McMillian |
Ms. Phillips is a powerful presence on any stage, and on target as Esther’s mentor, friend and adoptive parent. She’s funny, all knowing in her wisdom and while oft times offering unsolicited advise, knows from whence she comes.
Christopher Scott Murillo’s s detailed multi level set, with period colors, wallpaper, sewing machine, several rooms, all different in décor separating one location from the other, is picture perfect on the long stage of the NVA.
Michael Rathburn’s lighting is in itself another character emphasizing the backlighting when George comes on to the scene sharing his stories of his days on the crew of the building of the Canal to the loneliness he feels and…his longing to come to New York. The rest are in muted tones in keeping with shaded lighting of the period. Jojo Siu’s costumes are picture and period perfect for each character
|Cashae Monya and Tamara McMillian|
Lynn Nottage’s bittersweet saga of self -discovery, and a woman’s courage should be an inspiration to all who take in this excellent production and like yours truly, did not want to see it end even after two plus hours.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 30th
Organization: New Village Arts
Production Type: Drama
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA
Ticket Prices: $39.00
Photo: Darren Scott