Indiana Repertory Theatre
Directed by Timothy Douglas
Through Feb. 11
Rachel Leslie and Nikki E. Walker in the IRT production of 'Intimate Apparel'
It's not often that you get vocal audience reactions at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Being one of the most swank - and high-ticket - theaters in town, you usually get a proper, subdued audience there to take in some ART. But Intimate Apparel drew the audience in to such an extent opening night that gasps, moans of "nooooooo" and other expletives echoed round the theater as audience members reacted, uninhibitedly, to the action on stage. The situations on stage were so gripping - so reflective of life, but life in dire extremes - that the audience couldn't help but chime in, as if they were at home in front of the TV.
What a fun change for the IRT!
Intimate Apparel serves as dual commentary on the lives of women and blacks in the early 20th century. Inspired by family events of playwright Lynn Nottage, the main character, Esther, is a black seamstress in 1905 New York. She makes a good living sewing risqué lingerie for rich white women. But, at the age of 35, she has pretty much given up on ever being a bride herself. Then she begins receiving letters from a man in Panama, George, who has taken a shine to her. Their correspondence leads to Esther finally hearing the words she has dreamed of: "man and wife." However, George, and married life, don't end up being what Esther hoped for. In fact, Act 2 is where you will be inspired to yell out comments at the stage - such as, "Girl, don't do it!" Parallels are drawn between how black and white women alike are considered disposable - good for one accomplishment and then forgotten.
Nikki E. Walker as Esther is a woman with her own ideas about how to live. But Walker also gives Esther a romantic side - a side that makes it believable that she would marry a man sight unseen. Her best friend Mayme (Rachel Leslie), a whore, shows us the extremes of a society where women are chattel, as does Mrs. Van Buren (Amy Lynn Stewart), the white client caught in a loveless marriage, who reaches out to Esther for friendship and affection. The wise boarding house owner, Mrs. Dickson (Lizan Mitchell), is full of advice and support. Rounding out the cast is Mr. Marks (Jeff Wiens), an immigrant Jew who sells Esther her fabric. The subtle chemistry between Esther and Mr. Marks is wonderful.
In a period piece such as this, you hope for great costumes and a great set. Scenic designer Tony Cisek steps up to the challenge with pulled, gathered fabric stretching from stage rafters to floor, and costume designer Tracy Dorman decks the women out in lovely undergarments.
Intimate Apparel, smartly directed by Timothy Douglas, continues through Feb. 11. Tickets are $19-49 Call the IRT, 140 W. Washington St., at 317-635-5252, www.indianarep.com