'INTIMATE APPAREL': Theatre Review by Andrea Holstein
The Grand Theatre’s production of Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage is in honour of Black History Month. The piece follows the life of Esther (Sophia Walker), a 35 year old African American seamstress working in New York. Her life is forever changed when she receives a letter from a Bajan man, George (Andre Sills), who asks to maintain a correspondence with Esther to give him something to look forward to as he works on the Panama Canal. The piece opens with the visual of Esther working at her sewing machine, and closes with the same scene. The simplicity of this visual neatly bookends a dramatic tale full of aspiration, love, and deception.
The title of the piece carries a certain mystere that carries through into the narrative, as if the nature of Esther’s work is not something to discuss in polite company. There is a subtle tragedy to the lives of each character, tragedies which are swept under the rug until they can no longer be ignored. The first half of the play conceals this well, as it is full of playful dialogue between Esther and her clients: the high-society lady Mrs. van Buren (Ruby Joy) and the prostitute, Mayme (Marsha Regis). There are plenty of uplifting moments between George narrating his letters to Esther, and her interactions with the textile dealer, Mr. Marks (Jonathan Gould). As the play continues however, the lives of these characters begin to unravel.
Esther’s interactions with her clients are what carry the narrative. The relationship between Esther and Mrs. van Buren blurs class and racial boundaries: in the boudoir, they are just two women sharing in each other’s difficulties. The two are genuine friends and Mrs. van Buren is key in developing the relationship between George and Esther. As the piece goes on and the lives of the women are further complicated, this friendship becomes strained. Walker and Joy do an excellent job of carrying the audience through the highs and lows of this friendship.