Lyric Mounts Devastatingly Moving ‘Intimate Apparel’ (5 Stars)

Intimate Apparel’ – Written by Lynn Nottage.  Directed by Summer L. Williams.  Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA, through March 14.

Esther, the heroine of Lynn Nottage’s beautifully affecting play ‘Intimate Apparel’, is a seamstress of undergarments for wealthy Fifth Avenue women. The daughter of former slaves, Esther has left North Carolina for New York City, where she lives in a boarding house and manages to stash away a sizeable amount of money. Her dream is to open a beauty parlor, where black women can come and be pampered in a way that’s denied them in white society. At 35, Esther is still single, a fact that she both resents and accepts. When she receives a letter out of the blue from George, a stranger working on the Panama Canal, telling her he got her name from a former parishioner of her church and asking her to exchange letters, she decides to accept. Although Esther can’t read or write, she enlists the aid of one of her wealthy clients, Mrs. Van Buren, and a prostitute friend, Mayme, and correspondence begins. What ensues is both touching and tragic and speaks to the resilience of the human spirit and the bonds between women.

Actress Lindsey McWhorter gives a fearless and vulnerable performance as Esther. Wearing her beautiful heart on her sleeve, McWhorter’s Esther has the audience on her side from the very first scene. As Mayme, Kris Sidberry manages to be both shallow and caring. Brandon G. Green, as George, is appropriately seductive and slimy. And the ubiquitous Nael Nacer shines as Mr. Marks, Esther’s Jewish counterpart. Their final scene together is one of the more intimate moments of the play.

If only more theaters were like the Lyric. The playing space is small and the actors aren’t mic’d -I for one, am sick and tired of body-mic’d actors – creating an immediacy and intimacy to the action that the audience is witnessing. Scenic Designer Anne Sherer’s set is economical and clever – a quilt is pulled back from a bed to reveal the bed of a different home, a sewing machine is folded into a table to reveal a table of a different home. Mr. Marks’s shop, stocked with cloth, is tucked away upper stage left and is reached by a small staircase, as fitting a small walkup shop on the Lower East Side; George’s barracks on the Panama Canal are upper stage right. Summer L. Williams directs with deftness and purpose – her actors move with intention, rather than with blocking.

‘Intimate Apparel’ is good old-fashioned storytelling, with characters you care about and a desire to know their fate. Like a great novel that’s impossible to put down, it’s hard to tear yourself away from this production when it ends – you want it to go on, to know more, to know that everybody, despite an unfair world, gets the happy ending they deserve. But don’t take my word for it – see for yourself! For more info, go to: