Article by Kristen Nevarez Schweizer
January 19, 2024
Set against the backdrop of 1905 New York, Intimate Apparel unfolds at North Coast Repertory Theatre like a classic novel for modern audiences. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage tells the story of Esther, a talented African-American seamstress who designs lingerie, but fears becoming a lonesome spinster. Though she cannot read or write, Esther’s clients–an unhappily married socialite and a cheerful prostitute–help her answer love letters from a South American stranger.
The two-act play is heart-wrenching fiction based loosely on a photograph of the playwright’s great-grandmother, who was also a turn-of-the-century seamstress who married a Caribbean laborer. Esther’s journey is a metaphorical tapestry reflecting the challenges of race, class, and sex in a time of societal change.
Director Jasmine Bracey’s experience and artistry are evident in the show’s delicate pacing; seamless transitions kept the story unfolding at an engaging pace. Bracey also deserves commendation for her impeccable casting. Each of the six characters grapples with the complexities of their desires, and their chemistry alongside Esther creates authentic, endearing scenes.
The highest praise for the show goes to lead actress Nedra Snipes as Esther, whose undeniable charm and depth elevated the entire production. A special shout-out to Jonathan Fisher Jr. as Mr. Marks, a religious textile shopkeeper; his subtle choices brought layers of nuance to the appealing, conflicted character.
This show required incredible costumes and designer Elisa Benzoni delivered. Benzoni matched the sensuality of the scenes with sumptuous fabric choices and body-aware silhouettes in each of her creative, historical designs. A special bravo to Esther’s wedding dress!
This play reminded me why live theater is so cathartic. On the night I attended, the audience included two large, vocal retirement communities. The whole house rooted for Esther as if they were also experiencing love for the first time–even as they came to realize it would require their hearts to be broken, too.