INTIMATE APPAREL–reviewed by the Herald-Times

Last Friday we opened Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel in the Wells-Metz Theatre, under the direction of guest artist Ron Himes. Doris Lynch, the theatre critic for the Herald-Times, caught the final dress rehearsal, which served as the basis for her Sunday review, which we reprint, with permission, below. If you’re a subscriber to the paper, you may access the online version of the paper and the review.

Theater Review: ‘Intimate Apparel’

IU Theatre’s ‘Intimate Apparel’ an absorbing, unique play

By Doris Lynch, H-T Reviewer |

February 3, 2013

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word,” Emily Dickinson once said. And words — carefully strung together in letters — changes the practical African-American seamstress Esther (Jessica Turner) into a woman bent on epistolary romance. It’s 1905, George (Ian Martin), a black worker from Barbados, helps forge a gash through the jungle that will eventually become the Panama Canal. Someone from Esther’s church gives the laborer her address, and soon they endure too-long waits between missives.

Their correspondence develops despite the fact that Esther is illiterate and must rely on her clients to pen her notes. Ironically, before this spate of letter writing, Esther was extremely picky about her male suitors. Now she’s fallen in love with someone she knows only through sentences inscribed on dirt-stained stationery.

Guest director Ron Himes’ fine direction led a talented cast to explore this meeting of races, classes and cultures, where the divide sometimes becomes too wide to cross.

The play itself is set in Lower Manhattan where Esther often visits two clients, the narcissistic and naughty society matron Mrs. Van Buren (played superbly by Andrea Mellos) and the ragtime-loving Mayme, a jaded prostitute who Jasmine Taylor embodies with physicality and humor.

Andrea Mellos shines in her role, especially in one scene where she is admiring one of Esther’s Paris-inspired designs. Mellos transforms the audience into mirrors as she unselfconsciously preens and prances.

The only person who ever visits her boudoir is her seamstress, so can anyone blame Mrs. Van B. for believing that they are friends? But, as Esther reminds her, good friends enter each other’s houses by the front door.

Visually striking in a palette that emphasizes earth colors is Ryan Gleason’s scenic design. With sets brimming with fabrics and furniture, Gleason manages to make five distinct living spaces look uncluttered and appealing. It’s a true work of art.

Esther makes “intimate apparel.” Brushing a shoulder there, gently tapping a garment to a stomach here — this physical closeness encourages the sharing of secrets, and intimacies that are not reciprocated.

Despite Esther’s churchiness and spinsterhood, she and the prostitute Mayme share a close friendship. After their relationship is tested, Mayme thanks Esther for never treating her like a whore.

David-Aaron Roth brings to life the orthodox Jewish salesman, Mr. Marks. He and Esther share a deep appreciation for well-made cloth. Another thing that they have in common is each is engaged to a person he or she has never met. While striking hard bargains for Esther’s purchases, Roth shares with her his love of family and deep connection to Judaism.

As the controlling boarding homeowner, Tonik Boyd displays bossiness and a motherly tenderness toward Esther, who has been her housemate for 17 years. But on Thursday night, her anger seemed too mild when she shredded a love letter belonging to the seamstress.

In a mellifluous island accent, Martin delivers several of his letters from Panama as compelling monologues. These were textured with insect sounds, birdcalls and the splashing of waves via Jake Wiener’s excellent sound design. All evening, the contrasting dialects made a delightful music, though several times actors slipped out of their accents.

In a play accentuating the sensuousness of silk and satin, Katie Cowan Sickmeier’s provocative underthings, elegant dresses and period suits lived up to Esther and Marks’s sheer delight in fabric.

Touching, almost touching and not touching enough constitute both the good and bad behavior that makes this play a perfect fit for IU’s Themester. In one case, a hand hovering over a shoulder but never brushing it made audience members plea for a connection to occur.

This probing drama is unique and thoroughly absorbing. Go see it.

If you go:

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama

WHAT: “Intimate Apparel” by Lynn Nottage

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb 5-9 ; 2 p.m. Feb. 9

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $10-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or buy online at

Copyright: 2013

About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peek behind the curtain at the productions and people at Indiana University's Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.
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