EXCERPTS FROM THE ARTICLE
Below are excerpts from the August 31, 2017 JMORE article on Intimate Apparel.
FALL ARTS PREVIEW: GETTING 'INTIMATE'
Everyman Theatre play explores the complexities of a forbidden romance.
The saga of unrequited lovers has been a celebrated theme on the boards since before Shakespeare’s time.
Playwright Lynn Nottage, the first woman to twice win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, penned Intimate Apparel as a tribute to her African-American great-grandmother’s forbidden love affair with a Chasidic fabric merchant.
Set in New York City in 1905, Intimate Apparel tells the tale of Esther, a successful black seamstress living in a women’s boardinghouse, who creates intimate apparel for clients, from wealthy white patrons to impoverished prostitutes.
One by one, Esther’s boardinghouse neighbors marry and move away, leaving her feeling lonely and longing for a husband. When Esther begins receiving letters from a potential Caribbean suitor named George Armstrong working on the Panama Canal, her friends urge her to accept his marriage proposal.
Little do they know that her heart already belongs to Mr. Marks, an unmarried Orthodox fabric merchant.
And the feeling is mutual. When Mr. Marks declares, “It isn’t often that something so fine and delicate enters the store,” audiences know full well that he is referring to Esther.
After Esther marries Armstrong sight unseen, she discovers that she’s not the only one who misrepresented herself during their epistolary courtship.
“Mr. Marks has a real admiration for Esther,” says Dawn Ursula, a D.C.-based, Helen Hayes Award-winning actress who will portray the lead character. “He sees things through her eyes, yet because he’s a Jewish man and she’s a black woman, you know their romance isn’t possible.”
Nottage, 52, has been praised for her poignant yet frank depiction of the effects of racism, classism and the social oppression of women in “Intimate Apparel,” which had its world premiere in 2003 at Baltimore’s Center Stage. Ursula says part of the appeal of being cast as Esther (Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis played the role during the play’s off-Broadway run) is that Nottage doesn’t traffic in stereotypes.
“I love the way [Nottage] weaves in ways that Esther has to learn about Mr. Marks’ religion. This is a lovely, refreshing story,” Ursula says.
As a bonus, rehearsing Intimate Apparel has rekindled Ursula’s love for sewing. “I used to sew in high school,” says Ursula, who’s been practicing on old-fashioned sewing machines. “I’m excited to be hanging out in the theater’s costume shop.”