“Intimate Apparel” at Westport Country Playhouse

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

In choosing “Intimate Apparel, “ a delightful play by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, Westport Country Playhouse has ended its theatre season on a high note. Sensitively directed by Mary B. Robinson, this is a bittersweet portrait of a spinster seamstress who is struggling to survive the 1905 “melting-pot” of New York City. It’s a story that may be familiar to many of us who have had a single relative or family friend we respectfully referred to as the “Tanta” (“Auntie”).¬†However, despite the play’s predictability, when “Esther” steps out of this family album, the fate of this plain looking, woman who just happens to be black is absorbing and touching.¬†Which proves that takes a fine writer, director, and a talented cast to take a simple story and turn it into a masterpiece.

Because Esther has gained a reputation for creating women’s fine lingerie, she is able to pursue her trade by mingling with various classes of society. In order to transition smoothly from place to place, Allen Moyer has neatly created sliding cubicles that depict the living quarters of Esther, complete with Singer sewing machine and a colorful, crazy quilt. Mayme, a prostitute who plays ragtime on her piano just fits into another cubicle, and Mr. Marks, the kind-hearted, Orthodox, Jewish fabric seller has his own intimate square of living space. Appropriately situated above these boxes is the large, luxurious bedroom of Mrs. Van Buren, a wealthy, white, society lady. Each living space has one thing in common, a dweller with a lonely heart. And so, we are examining alienated people from various classes of society from the African-American perspective.

As Esther, Nikki Walker is a sensitive yet strong survivor. Aleta Mitchell plays her authoritative boarding house mistress. Leighton Bryan is the benevolent, society lady, and the gentle Jewish merchant is Tommy Schrider. The muscle-flexing Isaiah Johnson, who has more of an Irish accent than a West Indian, is Esther’s double-crossing scoundrel. The original, ragtime music by Fitz Patton is outstanding.

“Intimate Apparel” may be one of the best plays of this season. Plays to Nov 1. Tickets: 203-227-4177

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