Intimate Apparel

Intimate Apparel

Intimate Apparel

It’s tough for a single woman to make a go of it, and more so when she’s illiterate and black in 1905 New York. But Esther (Oben) posses one useful skill: she can make high-end underwear for wealthy women. Esther’s done well enough; she’s even saved up $100 (about $3000 in today’s coin) and hopes to start a shop of her own. And she’s more respectable than her sister Mayme (Martine Fleursma) who works in a brothel and drinks straight gin. But then Esther begins to receive love letters from mysterious George (Lindsay) who works on digging the Panama Canal. How he got her name and address remains a mystery, but one fine day he shows up, they wed, and things immediately go south. George drinks up their money, gambles, and wants her to finance an investment in a fading technology: Dray horses. With the motor car just appearing and steam a major part of building the 20th century city, this is equivalent to investing in film stock for cameras today. This being a stage play, things spiral down into the rabbit hole for Esther, and soon she ends up just where she started: Sewing underwear for the rich and famous, now older and perhaps wiser.

There’s solid workmanship here, both in the underwear, the cast and the clever revolving set. The level of detail amazes, right down to the sweat stains and what looks like a dollop of mustard that landed on George’s undershirt. The rotating stage presents three alternatives to Esther’s world: The sex she’s missing from her working girl sister Mayme (Martina Flueisma), the respectability she lacks from the stern task master Mrs. Dickson (Trennel Mooring), and money she’ll never via the the bored Mrs. Van Buren (Laurel Hatfield), her lonely customer. Down stage we see the man you want her to marry, the earnest and very Jewish fabric merchant Mr. Marks (Adam Biner.) He’s a man betrothed to a woman in Romania he may never meet. It’s very much like real life, messy and confusing and full of people helping you to make bad choices in your life. But this is a good choice: I encourage you to visit this land where respectability and decadence coexist side by side.

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