"Intimate Apparel" at Lionheart Theatre Company, November 1-17, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: The Color Magenta
Lynn Nottage’s "Intimate Apparel" consists of a number of scenes in a number of locations. Some of the scenes are no more than tableaux or vignettes. The transitions between scenes, while covered nicely enough by ragtime music in Bob Peterson’s sound design, are frequent enough and long enough to temper the pace of Lionheart’s production. Otherwise, the production sparkles.
Tanya Moore’s set design incorporates all locations on a unit set. Upstage left we have a narrow raised platform with a cot, representing the Panama quarters of George Armstrong (Rahshaun Cormier), a Barbados native working on the Panama Canal and carrying on a romance by mail with seamstress Esther (Jessica Briana Kelly). On a larger platform upstage right we have the fabric shop of Mr. Marks (Perry McWilliams), in which bolts of fabric and trimming fill the table and shelf on the platform. Downstage right there’s a screen and vanity in the residence of Mrs. Van Buren (Holly Berger), a Southern aristocrat trapped in a loveless marriage in New York City. Downstage left there’s the piano and furnishings of prostitute Mayme (Keeta Bell), who like Mrs. Van Buren is a loyal customer of Esther’s. Center stage there’s a bed that represents a portion of a number of locations. When a sewing machine is stationed to stage right of it, it represents Esther’s quarters in the boarding house run by Mrs. Dickson (Lisa Carr).
Gary White’s lighting design nicely highlights the portions of the stage on which action occurs. Each act ends with onstage action frozen as we hear the sound of a shutter, see the flash of a lightbulb, then see a tableau bathed in sepia tones. It’s a nice touch, hinting that the lives we’re seeing in the play would be remembered today only by a faded photograph or two of unidentified individuals.
The set décor, provided by Ms. Moore in conjunction with Nanette Arceneaux, Perry McWilliams, and Buck Moore, gives the definite flavor of 1905, when the action takes place, as do most of Ms. Moore’s props. Rebecca Spring’s costumes are a wonder to behold, featuring a lovely array of the corsets and other intimate apparel that Esther’s talented fingers and sewing machine produce. Even hairstyles add to the lusciousness of the visual design of the production.
Accents are used by three of the characters. Mr. Cormier’s Caribbean accent and Ms. Berger’s Southern drawl seem flawless, and Mr. McWilliam’s Romanian Yiddish accent is quite good, although his delivery seems more studied than fluid. Ms. Carr, Ms. Kelly, and Ms. Bell speak clearly and project well, so this production is a delight for the ears as well as the eyes.
Director Myrna Feldman has blocked the silent segments of the show to have enough movement to keep interest throughout, and has shaped the play to let the emotional resonances ring true. Ms. Kelly plays the central character of Esther with wonderful empathy, letting us see the qualities that endear her to so many, although she has low self-esteem. Esther has close relationships with all the other members of the cast, some verging on the romantic, and we palpably feel the longing for love that permeates the play.
Ms. Kelly is undoubtedly the standout in the cast, but she is ably supported by everyone else. Mr. Cormier is a dynamic presence throughout, and Ms. Carr sparks the show whenever she is onstage, her expressive face and voice bringing life to what could be a two-dimensional character. Mr. McWilliams and Ms. Bell interact truthfully with Ms. Kelly, creating what seem to be true friendships of two quite different types. Ms. Berger too creates a deep relationship with Ms. Kelly, although their difference in social status adds a different flavor to the mix.
Ms. Feldman has done complete justice to Lynn Nottage’s script at Lionheart Theatre Company. She has assembled a fine cast and design team and encouraged them to do their best to bring truth and texture to their work. The result has much the same feel as "The Color Purple," with a bittersweet ending in which we see Esther carrying on bravely in the face of adversity.