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Theater department addresses vulnerability in "Intimate Apparel"

by Katherine Fernandez - Copy Editor
Tue, Apr 30th 2019 09:00 pm



Love is an essential part of the human experience — everyone wants to be loved on some level. The latest Mainstage production presented at Tower Fine Arts, “Intimate Apparel,” takes a closer look at the innate cravings for human connection experienced by a group of people living in lower Manhattan, New York in 1905. 

“Intimate Apparel” premiered on Friday, April 26 and audiences have been enraptured by the raw emotion of the play. Esther (KateLyn Aldrich-Banks), a 35-year-old seamstress, has spent everyday since the age of 9 behind her sewing machine, perfecting her skills and eventually specializing in crafting undergarments for women from all walks of life. Since she designs intimate apparel, it is only natural that her clients build a rapport with her, being more than just physically vulnerable in their state of undress but also being emotionally vulnerable, divulging their innermost thoughts and emotions to her. 

Although she quite literally works in the field of intimacy, she has never experienced the love of a man and refuses to settle for anyone with a bit of status despite being encouraged to do so by Mrs. Dickson (Miriam Thige), her landlord and mother figure. In her interactions with her clients and the men in her life, the audience sees Esther evolve from a naive, self-proclaimed wallflower to a mature woman hardened by the reality that all that glitters is not gold, especially when it comes to love. 

The production highlights the socioeconomic and racial disparity of the time period while also maintaining a universally relatable quality. Being unlucky in love is a tale as old as time, but the emotional rollercoaster Esther goes on throughout the duration of the show still packs a hard punch. Senior Kelly Smith was glad she attended and had a chance to see a viewpoint she was unfamiliar with.

“I really liked it,” Smith said. “It showed a perspective that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. Racially and socially, Esther’s experiences were impactful.”

While theatergoers were bewitched by the onstage drama, the story behind the creation of the play is just as interesting. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter and playwright Lynn Nottage was inspired by an old passport photo she found of her great-grandmother, a seamstress that married a Barbadian immigrant. 

Upon researching her ancestor’s life and finding no relevant information, Nottage pictured the life her great-grandmother might have lived and thus “Intimate Apparel” was born. The director of Brockport’s iteration of the show, Jasmine B. Gunter, also made a personal connection to her ancestry.

“My ancestors participated in a historical movement called the Great Migration,” Gunter wrote. “In the early 20th century, there was a mass exodus of black people to the north, looking for a better life outside of the Jim Crow south. My ancestors moved to New York City, just like our protagonist Esther Mills, who was born in North Carolina before working her way to New York, participating in the Great Migration herself. The discoveries about my own heritage shifted how I looked at this play.” 

Gunter’s tie to the play was directly reflected in the obvious passion she exhibited and the success of the show. The actors were just as emotionally invested, working their hardest to successfully portray their intense roles. Senior Chantal Yawson played Mayme, a call girl and friend of Esther’s whose profession bleeds into her personal life as well as Esther’s.

“For Mayme there was a lot of processing that went into creating and performing the character,” Yawson said. “And the biggest thing was to understand that this career choice for Mayme is something that she is proud of and for me as an actress I had to understand the character and not judge Mayme’s choices.”

“Intimate Apparel” will continue its run this week on May 2 to May 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at fineartstix.brockport.edu or in the Box Office of Tower Fine Arts.



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