Mr. Marks (Drew Kopas), a Jewish fabric seller, shows Esther Mills (Dawn Ursula) a piece of Japanese silk. Photo courtesy of Everyman Theatre.
Back in the city where it first premiered, “Intimate Apparel” by Lynn Nottage is currently delighting viewers of all ages at Everyman Theatre. While somewhat predictable, Nottage’s play is beautifully constructed, and Tazewell Thompson’s direction brings it to life by the actors in a visually stunning — and ultimately heart-wrenching — way.
The play chronicles the year of 1905 for Esther Mills (played to perfection by Dawn Ursula), a thirty-five-year-old woman who makes intimate apparel for fine ladies and dreams of one day owning her own beauty parlor where African-American women can go to feel pampered. She receives a letter from a mysterious man in Panama named George Armstrong (Bueka Uwemedimo), and as they begin to correspond, they both fall in love with the idea that there is someone who wants them, sitting on the other end of the page.
Once George comes back to America, he and Esther get married, but soon Esther realizes that George is not the sweet, honest man she has come to love through his letters. She finds out he has been sleeping with her friend, Mayme (a radiant Jade Wheeler), who is a prostitute, and before he leaves for the last time, Esther gives him all the money she had saved up for her beauty parlor so that he can find honest work.
All the while this is happening, Esther finds herself pulled in numerous directions, from a client (Beth Hylton) who has come to care deeply for her to her old boarding house mistress and friend (Jenn Walker) to a Jewish fabric seller named Mr. Marks (Drew Kopas) for whom she has discovered newfound affection. Esther’s relationship with Mr. Marks becomes more and more complicated as the year passes. Both of them promised to another, they dance around their feelings for each other until it is too late, and their friendship can never be the same. Kopas is positively lovable in this role, and both he and Ursula bring such heart to their characters’ relationship.
Everyman Theatre consistently does an amazing job with set design, and Donald Eastman, in his Everyman debut, has created a truly gorgeous and breathtaking set. David Burdick, the costume designer, compliments this with his elegant creations; even the run crew is outfitted in period pieces, adding a new dimension to every scene change.
“Intimate Apparel” does not try to be anything it is not. It will pull you in from the start and leave you reeling; the colors, dialects, and emotions weave together as beautifully as Esther’s apparel, and the acting is unparalleled. Everyman Theatre has truly outdone itself with this simple, yet remarkable, production.
“Intimate Apparel” is running through November 19 at the Everyman Theatre. Everyman features a $10 student rush for B location seating 30 minutes before every scheduled performance and is offered to those with a valid student ID. Additionally, all Sunday evening performances are $10 for students in B location seating with a valid ID. Full price tickets can be purchased for $43-52.