BWW Review: The New Jewish Theatre's Thoughtful and Thought-Provoking Production of INTIMATE APPAREL
The New Jewish Theatre's production of playwright Lynn Nottage's INTIMATE APPAREL is a very engaging work that presents the audience with layers of text and subtext to chew on. It's primarily about the pursuit of a dream, and the events that occur that may delay or derail that dream, but not to the point where the protagonist ever gives up hope. Though set in New York at the turn of the last century, there are a lot of issues brought forth that will ring true for a modern audience. In these especially difficult times, it's a reminder of the way people of color were treated then, something we have to work vigilantly to make sure doesn't happen again. Drawing on the experiences of her great-grandmother, Nottage has written a wonderfully touching, and ultimately hopeful, work that is brought to life with an incredibly well done production by The New Jewish Theatre. I recommend it highly!
Esther is a black seamstress who sews intimate apparel that is worn by a variety of clients. She longs for a husband and a future where she can open up a beauty parlor for African American women, affording them the opportunity to experience some of the luxuries in life that have been reserved for white women. Though her heart may rest with the Hasidic shopkeeper who supplies her with cloth, that's a relationship that both know is an impossibility. She corresponds with a Carribean man named George who is not what he seems, but even when that goes horribly wrong, she's undaunted, with a determination to start anew and rekindle the dreams that drive her passions.
Jacqueline Thompson delivers a top notch performance as Esther, investing the role with the kind of endearing qualities that make you sympathize deeply with her situation. Linda Kennedy is just terrific as Mrs. Dickson who runs the boarding house where Esther lives and works. It's another fine rendering by an actress who is truly a treasure. Chauncy Thomas is also very good as George, giving life to a character that has reprehensible traits, misrepresenting himself with his correspondence. Although, it must be mentioned that being illiterate, Esther has relied on others to write for her, so she too is not the person that George envisioned. Jim Butz is excellent as Mr. Marks, the conflicted Jewish textile salesman that Esther shares a mutual attraction with, and Julie Layton provides strong support as a wealthy white socialite. Andrea Purnell neatly rounds out the cast as a prostitute named Mayme.
Director Gary Wayne Barker finds the heart at the center of this piece and does a great job with a truly special cast. Peter and Margery Spack, once again, give us a scenic design that is beyond words. They have a true gift for capturing the spirit of anything they work on, and here their work is simply lush and gorgeous. Sean Savoie lights the action with an eye toward providing just the right atmosphere, and Michele Friedman Siler's costumes fit the characters and the story perfectly. Margery Spack's props add the final touch to this period piece.
The New Jewish Theatre has crafted a production of INTIMATE APPAREL which is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. It's definitely worthy of your time and attention, and it continues through February 12, 2017.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey