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Calendar >  Award Winning “Intimate Apparel” On Stage At North Coast Repertory Theatre

Award Winning “Intimate Apparel” On Stage At North Coast Repertory Theatre

By   /  January 16, 2024  /  No Comments

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TR Robertson  -Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage began, early in her career, a look into her family’s past history, a search for some missing pieces and stories of her family tree. This search would lead her to stories about her great-grandmother, Ethel Boyce Armstrong, and the trials and tribulations she endured as well as the relationships she developed along the way. This story would become the inspiration for her award-winning play, “Intimate Apparel”.

Nottage is a 2-time Pulitzer Prize winner in the field of drama for her plays, “Ruined” and “Sweat”, each of which received Tony Award nominations. “Intimate Apparel” has won the American Theatre Critics and New York Drama Critics’ Awards for Best Play. Her numerous plays are produced throughout the United States. Under the direction of Jasmine Bracey, a New York based “storyteller and story teacher”, she brings to life Nottage’s characters on the North Coast Repertory Theatre Stage.

Photos by Aaron Rumley

The 2 ½ hour play weaves the story of African American seamstress, Esther Mills, living in Lower Manhattan in 1905, rooming in a boarding home for women run by Mrs. Dickson. Esther had been making a living, saving every penny she could for 18 years, to try and raise enough money to open her own beauty shop for black women, having moved to New York City from North Carolina to become a seamstress. Esther is played with wonderful grace and dignity by Nedra Snipes, making her North Coast Repertory Theatre debut. She presents Esther as a woman who has struggled most of her life, now 35 years old, and a woman who desires to find someone to share her life with. Mrs. Dickson is played by Teri Brown, also making her North Coast Rep debut. Mrs. Dickson is a woman who speaks her mind, seems to live life to the fullest and is not afraid to offer life lessons to Esther.

Esther has a number of people in her circle of “friends”. She has an ongoing work relationship with a gregarious white socialite, Mrs. Van Buren, who is interested in the corsets Esther makes as well as using Esther as a sounding board for her own marital issues. As the two get to know one another, Mrs. Van Buren develops what she thinks can be an even stronger relationship with Esther as she helps Esther write romantic letters to a man who has contacted Esther while he was employed as a laborer on the Panama Canal. Mrs. Van Buren is played by Madeleine Barker, also new to the North Coast Rep Stage.

Esther’s closest friend seems to be Mayme, played by Arizsia Staton. Mayme is a “lady of the evening” who also desires to wear the beautiful corsets Esther makes. Esther finally shares the information about her correspondence with Mayme and Mayme also helps her with letter writing, adding a flourish to the letters to win over the Panamanian laborer, George Armstrong. Esther will discover that Mayme’s lifestyle will eventually prove disastrous for Esther’s relationship with George.

Another person in Esther’s life is Mr. Marks, a Romanian Jew who sells Esther her fabric for the corsets and clothing and a man who seems to be love struck by Esther, only there are several problems he faces. Mr. Marks has an arranged engagement to a woman in Romania and interracial relationships during this time period would prove difficult. Because of his faith he is also unwilling to push his relationship with Esther. Mr. Marks is played by Jonathan Fisher Jr., also making his North Coast Rep Debut. Each of these people, Mr. Marks, Mrs. Dickson, Mrs. Van Buen, and Mayme are masterfully played and represent the inner circle of people that will assist in establishing the direction Esther will take in developing a relationship with George, the Panamanian. A relationship that will prove not to be in Esther’s best interest.

Esther’s love interest, George Armstrong, is played by Donald Paul, making his first appearance at North Coast Rep. Throughout the play, in a series of asides, we see the relationship of George and Esther develop through letters they supposedly write to one another. Paul presents George as a man who desires something better for his life, a man who wants to settle down, a man seemingly with a concern for Esther’s feelings. He does a great job of convincing us of all of these qualities; but as Act II develops, we find that George has fooled us all.

Everyone in this play desires something different than the life they are living. Such was the case for millions of people in 1905 as the wave of immigration swept the United States, filling the cities with people who saw this country as an opportunity to establish a better life for themselves and their families. It worked for the better for many and for many they did not find the dream they were looking for. Discrimination, lack of education, increasing poverty, overcrowding and much more dashed the hopes of many as they struggled to make their lives better. As Mayme says to Esther, to survive sometimes “we do what we must”.

Lynn Nottage has created a story that typifies what many would go through in the search for a better life. In her search for her own past, she uncovered stories she would use to develop “Intimate Apparel”. Assisting Director Jasmine Bracey was her Creative Team consisting of Stage Manager Jared Blake Halsell, Set Designer Marty Burnett, Lighting Designer Matthew Novotny, Costume Designer Elisa Benzoni, Sound Designer Evan Eason, Prop Designer Cindy Rumley, Projection Designer Matt Fitzgerald, Hair & Wig Designer Peter Herman, Assistant Costume Designer Grace Wong and Production Assistant Katelyn Slater.  A cleverly designed multi-level set by Set Designer Marty Burnett allowed the audience to visualize Mayme’s bedroom, Mr. Marks’ fabric store, Mrs. Van Buren’s drawing room, and Esther’s bedroom and a backdrop where the audience could see images and background developments in a “dreamlike” appearance.

This is a moving, well-acted play centered around themes of loneliness, longing, hope and desire, love and friendship on stage at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. “Intimate Apparel” will remain at North Coast Rep until February 4th. Tickets are available at www.northcoastrep.org . Next up for North Coast Rep is “Tartuffe” beginning on March 6th.

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