Ensemble Theatre’s ‘Intimate Apparel’ is a richly woven tale that is superbly acted
The cast of a play is very comparable to an intricate machine with numerous delicate moving parts. Each part must be precision fitted to its task and work flawlessly. With the Ensemble Theatre complex production of Lynn Nottages’ Intimate Apparel this is certainly the case.
It is 1905 in the Lower Manhattan section of New York City. Ester (Kimberly L. Brown) is a middle age unmarried black woman that over the years has become a skilled seamstress who specializes in boudoir apparel and who is much in demand. Over the years she has carefully squirreled away money which she has sewn into a bed quilt. Her dream is to open up a beauty parlor. She lives in a boarding house run by Mrs. Dickson (Reva Golden) who watches over her collection of unmarried ladies like a mother hen.
Among Ester’s diverse clientele is Mrs. Van Buren (Diana Frankhauser) who is a married socialite bored to tears with her shallow childless existence which has her indulge in alcohol in order to cope with her many social obligations. On the other end of the social spectrum is Mayme (Zyrece Montgomery) who ekes out a living as a prostitute.
Ester purchases the rare and costly fabrics of her trade from Mr. Marks (Craig Joseph) a Romanian Jew who patiently awaits the arrival of his arranged bride from the old country. In spite of themselves, Ester and Mr. Marks develop a true affection for each other even though they realize that due to social restraints they will never be allowed to be romantically involved.
Ester’s life is suddenly changed when out of the blue a letter arrives from George (Leilani Barret) who is a black man from Barbados working on the great project of building the Panama Canal. George is friends with a man who once attended Ester’s church and to fill the lonely hours George and Ester begin to exchange letters.
A long distance romance comes about as each letter gets to be more and more intimate until George ends up proposing and wanting to come to New York City to live with Ester. George arrives and the two are wed but Ester soon finds that this George is not the man she thought he was in his letters.
Each role is pivotal in the telling of this story and you can tell that the actors have gone to great lengths to inhabit their roles. Kimberly L. Brown carries the show with her portrayal of the middle age virgin spinster who is able to construct the most intimate of corsets and lingerie yet has little knowledge of their purpose. She is wise yet innocent at the same time. Leilani Barret is the man you love to hate as George. His melodious soft spoken voice hides the conniving man who is not above taking advantage of those who love him the most. Zyrece Montgomery is a delight as the warm hearted but world weary prostitute who inadvertently becomes the hand grenade that blows all their lives apart.
One of the more fascinating characters is Mr. Marks portrayed by Craig Joseph who along with a flawless accent adds small nuances and idiosyncrasies that add a distinct texture to the fabric that is his role. Diane Frankhauser as the put upon Mrs. Van Buren plays the class distinction to the hilt becoming unlikely friends with Ester with a surprise that takes the audience in an entirely new direction. Lastly, there is Reva Golden as Mrs. Dickson who at first seems to be a meddling busy body but is in fact simply concerned for the welfare of her brood of eligible young ladies that she has elected to take care of and shield from the world. The play is extremely well directed by Sarah May.
Special mention must be made of the set design by Ian Hinz. It is a multi-tiered marvel that allows the actors to travel from each scene at ease without the distraction of shifting much of the props or sets around on the stage.
This is a superbly crafted play populated by actors who really care about the people they portray and have put in long hours and experience to become their various roles. This is a work that regular theater goers will relish and newcomers will have a high bar set for future plays that they will visit.
Intimate Apparel runs through February 16, 2020 at Ensemble Theatre located in the Coventry Peace Complex at 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, Ohio. For information and tickets visit www.ensembletheatre.org or call (216) 321-2930.