Amongst playwright Lynn Nottage’s exemplary qualities is the flexibility to attract sympathetic characters with a watch to the social situations that form them, even within the worst methods. In Intimate Attire, now enjoying at Theatre J underneath the route of Paige Hernandez, this facility is delivered to bear on the story of a Black seamstress in early-Twentieth-century New York Metropolis, whose aspirations and troubles are stitched into her work. Her journey via the play is certain not solely to the clothes she crafts however the achingly non-public moments that decision for them, all of that are finely realized on this manufacturing.
Esther (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) is an skilled seamstress working within the room she rents from the widow Mrs. Dickson (Aakhu TuahNera Freeman). Her clothes are prized by the likes of each Mrs. Van Buren (Susan Lynskey), a high-society white lady, and Mayme (Awa Sal Secka), a Black prostitute and aspiring showgirl. It additionally pulls her into the orbit of males shifted by the worldwide tides of migration: Mr. Marks (Yoni Bronstein), a Romanian immigrant and cloth service provider, and George (Manu Kumasi), an formidable Caribbean laborer working away on the Panama Canal. Esther works her means via a gradual if unsatisfying life, her eyes at all times on a magnificence parlor she plans to open along with her financial savings, till issues begin to change when George begins writing her letters that develop steadily extra romantic. Esther’s illiteracy forces her to hunt assist from her purchasers, who craft equally longing responses on her behalf. Regardless of Mrs. Dickson’s considerations and the nice and cozy however suppressed attentions of Mr. Marks, Esther welcomes George’s subsequent marriage proposal sight unseen. Sadly, Esther’s eager for intimacy places her goals in danger and pulls on the threads of her relationships, revealing the financial elements that complicate and corrupt even essentially the most well-meaning folks.
That the play is dominated by non-public, sensuous encounters—some erotic, some pleasant, others ostensibly skilled—is clear earlier than a phrase is spoken. Paige Hathaway’s set, fitted ever so snugly into the Edlavitch DC Jewish Neighborhood Middle’s slender proscenium stage, is dominated by a brass mattress. Hernandez phases essentially the most pivotal scenes in orbit round its body, trending nearer to its heart as Esther’s entanglements deepen. A tall, three-part sheer curtain and two diagonal shafts of sheer cloth spotlight Esther’s craft and the tantalizing visions her attire is supposed to evoke. George speaks his first few letters from behind the scenes, teasing the viewers simply as he teases Esther. The diagonal stretches of material make helpful screens for Projection Designer Zavier Augustus Lee Taylor, who beams onto them the titles of every scene, all of which correspond to the central cloth or garment of the second. Taylor’s projections additionally recommend delicate adjustments in location—massive fronds for Panama, hedges for New York.
Naturally, Mayenda Kulemeka’s costumes serve an particularly important perform. Esther’s lengthy skirt highlights her modesty as compared with Mrs. Van Buren and Mayme, who’re comfy of their corsets and stockings. George begins the play as an undershirt-clad archetype of the romantic laborer and ends in a go well with of tremendous Scottish wool made by his new spouse; it marks his change in standing, which corresponds to a change in angle. Mr. Marks’ distinctive, all-black Hasidic apparel is suitably untouchable save until the tip, when he savors an opulent garment that appears amusingly, and endearingly, flashy on him. The artistic staff clearly relishes Nottage’s meditation on the reciprocal relationship between human beings and their garments.
Like Kulemeka’s costumes, the solid efficiently traces the outlines of Nottage’s characters. Wilson carries the present comfortably as humble Esther, although she is at her most partaking when flashing a large, giddy grin that evokes Esther’s childlike innocence. Lynskey’s breathy Mrs. Van Buren and Freeman’s regal, if considerably unsteady, Mrs. Dickson provide contrasting visions of girls, one white and one Black, ensconced within the positions afforded them by marriage. Kumasi’s George is all romantic posturing initially, all bug-eyed depth and insolence on the finish. The standouts are Bronstein and Secka, each of whom properly articulate their character’s contradictions. Bronstein, genially soft-spoken however at all times clear, finds the strain between Mr. Marks’ piety and his carnal want; Secka’s Mayme cycles from intentionally cheeky to self-consciously showy, a steely core beaming via her glittery exterior.
The place Theater J’s rendition excels is in staging the intimacy foregrounded within the title. Whereas the Edlavitch’s small stage cramps just a few of the manufacturing’s tableaus, Hernandez’s experience in composition, aided by intimacy coordinator Cliff Williams III, shines via. Esther’s forbidden contact of Mr. Marx’s black coat is staged with sufficient emphasis to be clear however not melodramatic. When Esther’s relationship with Mrs. Van Buren crumbles underneath the burden of segregation and Mrs. Van Buren’s privileged obliviousness, it’s a pained silence that sustains, not histrionics. The mattress stays the centerpiece all through, harboring Esther and Mayme as they conspire to woo George, then blocking Esther from her husband as the perimeters of their marriage start to fray.
Altogether, it’s the craft and care in pivotal moments that may reward audiences and additional Theater J’s emphasis to inform more and more numerous, complicated tales that contact on the Jewish expertise. From this system notes to the composition, Intimate Attire guarantees a night that’s shifting, insightful, and tailor-made to the play’s strengths.
Operating Time: Two hours 20 minutes, together with one 15-minute intermission.
Intimate Attire performs via November 13, 2022, introduced by Theater J on the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater within the Edlavitch DC Jewish Neighborhood Middle, 1529 sixteenth Road NW, Washington, DC. Buy tickets ($44–$85) on-line or by calling the ticket workplace at 202-777-3210.
This system for Intimate Attire is on-line right here.
COVID Security: All patrons within the Goldman Theater are required to put on masks masking their nostril and mouth. Solely performers and friends invited onstage could also be unmasked. Masks are elective however inspired within the Q Road and sixteenth Road lobbies, hallways, and different public areas. For extra info, go to Theater J’s COVID Security Tips.