Trinity Rep kicks off the new year with the Rhode Island premiere of “Intimate Apparel” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage, sponsored by Brown University with supporting sponsor Ruth’s Lingerie. Directed by Trinity Rep company member Janice Duclos, the show begins previews on Jan. 30 in the Dowling Theater and continues through March 2.
This beautifully written and critically acclaimed play is set at the beginning of the 20th century and was inspired by Nottage’s own family history. “Intimate Apparel” centers on Esther, a black seamstress who creates intimate garments for the women of New York City. Hailed as “a beautifully written and intensely personal play that combines a vibrant feminist sensibility with an ability to cut to the emotional quick with striking veracity, poignancy and intimacy” by the Chicago Tribune, Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel” tells a deeply moving story of romance and survival. Tickets are on sale now at www.trinityrep.com, by calling 351-4242, or at the theater’s box office at 201 Washington St., Downtown Providence.
The time is 1905, the place New York City, where Esther (Mia Ellis), a black seamstress, lives in a boarding house for women and sews intimate apparel for clients who range from wealthy white patrons to prostitutes. Her plan is to find the right man and use the money she’s saved to open a beauty parlor where black women will be treated as royally as the white women she sews for. By way of a mutual acquaintance, she begins to receive beautiful letters from a lonesome Caribbean man named George (Joe Wilson Jr.), who is working on the Panama Canal. Over time the correspondence becomes increasingly intimate until George persuades her that they should marry, sight unseen.
“Intimate Apparel” premiered at Baltimore’s Center Stage and went on to make its New York debut at the Roundabout Theatre in 2004 featuring Viola Davis as Esther. Among the play’s many award nominations, it won the 2004 Steinberg New Play Award, Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play, and Lynn Nottage received the John Gassner Award from the same committee.
Members of Trinity Rep’s resident acting company comprise the cast, including Angela Brazil (Mrs. Van Buren), Mia Ellis (Esther), Mauro Hantman (Mr. Marks), Barbara Meek (Mrs. Dickenson), and Joe Wilson, Jr. (George) with Brown/
Trinity Rep MFA student Shelley Fort (Mayme).
To create the multi-faceted world of turn of the century New York, Trinity Rep has assembled the production design team of set designer Patrick Lynch (Boeing-Boeing), lighting designer John Ambrosone (The Grapes of Wrath), costume designer Allison Carrier (A Christmas Carol) and resident sound designer Peter Sasha Hurowitz.
“It is in this setting, a city teeming with people, that Lynn Nottage has written a play she herself described as a meditation on loneliness,” explains director Janice Duclos. “Esther Mills has overcome the many societal barriers facing a single, illiterate, African-American woman by being able to provide for herself; but it is enough? She still finds herself alone.”