THEATER REVIEW: “Intimate Apparel” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Roseann Cane
As noted by director Daniela Varon, Lynn Nottage’s play Intimate Apparel – currently running at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox through Sunday, August 13 – takes place in 1905, the same year that Edith Wharton published “The House of Mirth.” Both works are richly detailed, insightful studies of women, men and class distinctions in and around New York at the turn of the last century, but while Wharton’s novel examined the more “visible” world of white society, Nottage explores a world that is far less familiar to most of us: that of the disenfranchised, the immigrants, the African-Americans.
Esther (Nehassaiu deGannes), an unmarried 35-year-old African-American seamstress, creates lingerie from the elegant fabrics she buys from a pious Jewish Romanian immigrant, Mr. Marks (Tommy Schrider). Two of Esther’s clients, Mrs. Van Buren (Christianna Nelson) and Mayme (Medina Senghore) seemingly live on opposite ends of the social spectrum, the former a white woman who has married into a rich New York family; the latter, an African-American bordello worker.
Esther’s landlady, Mrs. Dickson (MaConnia Chesser), cautions her when Esther enters an epistolary romance with a laborer on the Panama Canal, George Armstrong (Lee Edward Colston II). Mrs. Dickson describes the personal compromises she chose to make when she married a man with money. The now-widowed Mrs. Dickson advises Esther to guard her heart, but Esther is lonely, and eagerly accepts the marriage proposal from the man who writes so lovingly.