Pasadena Playhouse | 39 South El Molino Avenue | Pasadena, CA 91101
(Photography courtesy of Pasadena Playhouse)
A story of the continual emotional torture a women endures when it comes to wanting to be loved. Sometimes settling, sometimes investing in the wrong man, sometimes missing the signs, sometimes letting go of their dreams. Whether it be during the liberation of black women and men or women’s suffrage, women it seems are meant for so much but expect far too little for themselves. Women dreaming of so much but settling unnecessarily out of fear. It’s a tale familiar to so many and this performance was truly haunting and emotional, tugging at you in ways that seem so honest and quietly narcissistic it is compelling.
The story explores the main character, Esther played by the endearing powerhouse, Vanessa Williams, being a 35 year-old unmarried black woman with a gift for making beautiful intimate apparel. Hired to create these undergarments for Mrs. Van Buren played by the mesmerizing Angel Reda, and her friend – a prostitute – Mayme played by the beautiful and talented Kristy Johnson, Esther lives with Mrs. Dickson played by Dawnn Lewis who shows strength, struggle, and choices made to have a better life. The intertwining interactions between the four women beckon you to return to a much simpler time in theory but still a very modern subject matter: Women in search of what it is they really want out of life.
As the days go by, Esther has befriended the man that owns the fabric store, Mr. Marks played by Adam J. Smith who woos her with beautiful, delicate fabrics rich with story, and the relationship between he and Esther is definitively tense and painful to watch; Unspoken feelings from him and her appreciation for the thoughtfulness and consideration he always shows her. However he is arranged to marry a woman he was promised to years before and while still waiting to meet her, there is no way for him to pursue Esther.
One day Esther receives a letter from a man in Panama named George Armstrong played by David St. Louis. While his Caribbean accent is heavy, his mysterious demeanor entangles you, you begin to feel hopeful as this romance and exchange of letters quickly turns into a love story one hopes is the kind good stories are made of. Eventually George proposes. All the while, Esther has been saving up every dollar earned to open up her own garment shop selling the beautiful intimate apparel she creates. Soon after they are married and the story unravels. Esther realizing she married a stranger as her dreams of being a business owner soon begin to fade, Mrs. Van Buren reveals feelings for Esther, Mayme does the unthinkable and falls in love with a client, Mrs. Dickson accepts being well-off was the choice she made over having real love, Mr. Marks distances himself from Esther, and George begins to show his true colors. This play is emotional and tormenting and wonderfully acted. Amplifying the loneliness everyone feels at some point, the loss of dreams, an unrequited love, a business failure, uncertainty, “Intimate Apparel” leaves you feeling more than you expect. It has unexpected turns and an emotional hold on you that imprisons and frees you as a woman and lover of the theatre.
Directed by Sheldon Epps and Written by Pulitzer Prize Recipient, Lynn Nottage, “Intimate Apparel” is a play one can imagine on the screen. Well written, strong characters, honesty and truth, this play is a success.