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Intimate Apparel woos audiences on opening night

Intimate Apparel woos audiences on opening night

By Alana Hodson

Section: Arts, Featured

March 4, 2016

Thursday night, March 3, the renowned production “Intimate Apparel” premiered at the Laurie Theater in Spingold, drawing a good crowd to witness the play’s opening. “Intimate Apparel” was directed by Boston’s own Jacqui Parker, who has garnered much success in her field: she received the Elliot Norton award, the 2004 Boston Theater hero award and is a seven-time winner of the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award. With her expertise, the story unfolded with sophistication, grace and passion on the Brandeis stage.

The play “Intimate Apparel” was written by Lynn Nottage, a Brooklyn playwright whose works have portrayed the current societal issues that still plague our nation today, such as racial and gender discrimination. Delving further into the struggles of the individual, “Intimate Apparel” follows a woman’s life as she attempts to find love while maintaining her identity. The main character, Esther, played by Ashley Ertilien ’17, is a black seamstress whose talent allows her to create beautiful articles of clothing for a variety of clients, from the glittering salons of Fifth Avenue to the simple dwelling of her friend, Mayme (played by Keturah Walker ’18), who makes her living as a “lady of the night.” Set in 1905, the story follows Esther’s interaction between the two worlds she inhabits, emphasizing the challenges that African American women faced in her time— which still linger in our society today.

“Intimate Apparel” was inspired by a photograph Nottage had found of her great-grandmother, whose life and character was entirely unknown to Nottage, aside from the fact that she had been a seamstress. Determined to discover the life of this unknown family member, Nottage embarked on a journey to discover the missing link her lineage, and as a result, “Intimate Apparel” was created. This play created a life for Nottage’s great-grandmother whose true story had been lost in the convolutions of time. This unknown woman’s life now contains all the emotions, hardships and complexities of a full story, which can also serve as a powerful message to her descendants.

As the play began, Ertilian’s portrayal of Esther commanded the stage, firm in her convictions, gentle in spirit, determined in her work and innocent in her understanding of the world. The play unfolds as Esther is torn between marrying a man whom she does not love but holds a respectable position and George Armstrong, a man from Panama played by Shaquan McDowell ’18, who passionately woos her through letters. The catch, however, is that Esther can neither read nor write, so she must rely on other characters to convey her messages for her, namely her wealthy Fifth Avenue client, Mrs. Van Buren, played by Gabi Nail ’18; Mrs. Dickson, played by Michelle Richardson ’16, and Mayme. A major part of Esther’s life, Mayme is her foil, carefree and unburdened by the status of her life, and she is masterfully played by Walker, whose bright personality brings life and excitement to the character. Now, I won’t give any plot twists away, as this play has a surprising amount, but I shall give you a glimpse into the dynamic qualities of these roles.

As one of the only white characters of the play, Mrs. Van Buren serves to provide the contrast in the racial privileges all too evident in the play, yet her character is by no means just a filler to allude to this contemporary issue. Mrs. Van Buren and Esther are on amicable terms, and in fact Mrs. Van Buren considers Esther to be one of her closest friends. This added an interesting and subtle undertone to their relationship, building to an entirely unexpected twist that drew gasps of surprise from nearly everyone in the audience. Nail portrayed Mrs. Van Buren splendidly, capturing her vivacity and high-class air.

Another character that added an interesting element to the story was Mr. Marks, Esther’s faithful fabric provider, played by Brian Levi Dorfman ’16. He contributed the unfortunate and heart-breaking circumstance of unrequited love, since he cared deeply for Esther though she always remained loyal to George. Well-played, Dorfman created a kind, caring and sympathetic man, a welcomed sight in the midst of characters tossed together in tumultuous relationships.

Even Richardson’s role of Mrs. Dickson guided Esther along the path of her life. “Intimate Apparel” was a powerful play—beautifully designed and intricately written. The play will be performed through March 6, so be sure to stop by the box office and view this spectacular play for yourself.

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