Skillful storytelling invites audiences into the world of ‘Intimate Apparel’

Intimate Apparel

Theatre Cedar Rapids — Through Nov. 11

‘Intimate Apparel’ runs through Nov. 11. — Struttmann Photo/Theatre Cedar Rapids

Intimate Apparel, directed at Theater Cedar Rapids by Deanna Downes, examines friendship, love, race and how people are able to keep going in situations they would not choose. Intimate Apparel runs two more weeks in TCR’s Grandon Studio; tickets are $15-25 (the Nov. 9 performance is sold out). The audience on opening night was, in turns, both delighted and surprised by the skilfull storytelling of this small ensemble.

Esther, thoughtfully played by Joanna Jordan, is a talented seamstress, creating beautiful intimate apparel for the rich as well as for prostitutes. As a result of Derek Easton’s deliberate staging and lighting, the audience was a part of Esther’s life everywhere she went. Esther works hard in order to realize her dream of owning a salon where black women can relax and be pampered. Jordan fully embodies Esther from her hidden love for Mr. Marks (Christopher Schubert) to her friendship with Mayme (Ariana Smith) to her work for Mrs. Van Buren (Noel VanDenBosch).

Through all of the characters, the audience sees the richness of relationships Esther navigates to become successful. Mr. Marks brings out a soft side of Esther whenever she visits his shop to buy fabric for her sewing. Schubert brings an unexpected tenderness to the role. Esther listens to Mrs. Van Buren’s marital complaints as she fits her for corsets designed to entice her husband. VanDenBosch adds a luminous quality to the character of Mrs. Van Buren, making a desperate woman both sympathetic and surprising. Through Esther’s conversations with her landlady, Mrs. Dickson, played by Kierra Young Bey, the audience learns Esther’s history and her hopes for marriage. Although Mayme is Esther’s confidante, a twist in the second act disrupts their friendship; Smith’s realistic portrayal of a prostitute of the era is to be commended.

Joanna Jordan and Ariana Smith in ‘Intimate Apparel.’ — Struttmann Photo/Theatre Cedar Rapids

As Esther moves through these relationships and her work, she strives to build her future. That future would be incomplete without a husband; Esther finds one via a pen pal relationship. When George, played by Brandon Prince, arrives on the scene, Esther has made great strides toward realizing her goals. Marriage, Esther hopes, will bring a completeness to her life of hard work. Unfortunately, dreams are not always realized. Prince brings a clear arc to George’s character, starting out as a sympathetic worker in the Caribbean and developing him fully into a lecher and thief.

Intimate Apparel depends on conversation between characters, and if a bit slow at times and occasionally muddled by accents, the direction here was varied and clearly illuminated the relationships. The costuming by Kathryn Bowery Huang set the time period beautifully. Intricate and detailed corsets lit up the stage, highlighting Esther’s expertise as a seamstress. The sturdy everyday clothing served as a contrast to the delicate undergarments.

If the first act sets up the places and people of Esther’s life, the second act shakes everything up, and the trick for Esther is landing on her feet. Through their sensitive portrayals of the people of 1905 New York, the cast of Intimate Apparel will welcome you into their lives.

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