Intimate Apparel: a revealing, deeply rewarding experience

Ten Thousand Things Theater, various venues (check the website), though June 4

Aimee Bryant and Darius Dotch in Intimate Apparel. Photo by George Keller

For a show that ruminates on the complexities of loneliness, Ten Thousand Things Theater’s Intimate Apparel (running at various locations throughout the metro through June 4th) brims with warmth. It celebrates humanity through honest, sometimes ugly insights rather than simplistic or saccharine romanticism, and what results is deeply resonant. Filled with heartfelt emotion and carefully painted characters, the show invites audiences to feel the dual promises and dangers that lie in the universal need to be loved.

Intimate Apparel, written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, follows an African-American woman, Esther, on the verge of spinsterhood just after the turn of the 20th Century. Esther is a talented seamstress who lovingly works to create ladies undergarments, for both wealthy white society women and lowly African-American prostitutes. Despite the affectionate friendship with her landlady of 18 years, Esther is plagued with loneliness and jealousy of other women’s nuptials, until she is courted by an unseen laborer in Panama with a series of poetic love letters and dabbles in flirtation with an observant Jewish cloth salesman.

Each of the six talented cast members deliver Nottage’s penetrating dialogue with distinct personality. Special attention must be paid to Aimee Bryant, who anchors the play with subtlety, kindness, and a vivid inner life as Esther. She is in every scene and is pitch-perfect as she moves from resignation to disappointment to hope and everything in between.

Kris Nelson‘s Mr. Marks teems with affection and kindness, as he showers thoughtful gifts of beautiful, intricate fabrics on Esther with pure motivations. Darius Dotch not only captivates us with bewitchingly poetic letters as the laborer George, but also perfectly and consistently manages a tricky accent. George Keller, Dame-Jasmine Hughes, and Karen Wiese-Thompson portray Esther’s landlady Mrs. Dickenson and clients Mayne and Mrs. Van Buren, respectively, each with massive personalities carefully designed to cover their wounded spirits and cycles of abusive relationships with men. They are all achingly honest in their roles and bring complex humanity to every corner of the stage.

True to the Ten Thousand Things model, this is a simple, unadorned staging, built to accommodate the company’s need to travel and perform in all types of spaces. With all the house lights on throughout the performance, the audience becomes less consumer and more participant in the action. Austene Van‘s direction moves the show with fluidity and efficiency, even during scene changes which could easily have been clunky. This is aided by Annie Enneking‘s sound and music, which beautifully accentuates movement and the emotions laid bare on stage. The set by Stephen Mohring and costumes by Trevor Bown are also versatile and considered.

Intimate Apparel’s humble plot should not fool you–this play explores a number of complex themes at the intersection of class, race, and gender. Beyond that, it is an engrossing, moving production featuring some hearty laughter and heartfelt relationships. Ten Thousand Things Theater’s mission to make high-quality theater accessible to all corners of society is not simply admirable, it produces some of the most insightful, honest experiences in these lovely cities.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies at their site Movie Matrimony.

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