Theater department presents ‘Intimate Apparel’

It’s a Girl Thing -- Leslie Jordan and Racquel McKenzie are Mayme and Esther in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s production of “Intimate Apparel.” (Photo provided) Download Photo Here

April 13, 2010

Theater department presents ‘Intimate Apparel’

by Vincent Rhomberg

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Department of Theater at Southern Illinois University Carbondale presents “Intimate Apparel,” a Lynn Nottage play, on the McLeod Theater stage.

The play runs April 29-May 2 with shows at 7:30 p.m., except on May 2, which is a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.

Laura Kidd, assistant professor in fashion design and merchandising, delivers a pre-show lecture prior to the Sunday performance, beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts Dean’s Conference Room. The lecture is free and open to the public.

The play, set in the shifting cityscape of 1905 New York City, tells the story of Esther Wills, a black seamstress who earns her living by creating ladies undergarments. Lonely Esther begins a correspondence romance with a man working on the Panama Canal. However, falling in love through letters can be a tricky business. When the man arrives in the city for marriage, Esther discovers he is not the person she thought he was, and her dreams for love and a new life seem to unravel at the seams.

“What I love about this play is Esther’s persevering sense of hope and spirit,” said Susan Patrick Benson, director and assistant professor of voice in the Department of Theater. “Everyone has obstacles in life, and everyone has sadness. How we deal with life’s obstacles is the essence of who we are, it is the fabric of our character. This play is set in a time and an era in which a woman, even more so a single black woman, has limited means to support herself. In spite of the circumstances of her life, when Esther encounters adversity, she refuses to let it keep her down. She chooses to be happy and to succeed.”

The Baltimore Stage co-commissioned “Intimate Apparel” with the South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, Calif. The play debuted in Baltimore in 2003, then appeared later that year in Costa Mesa. The play had a successful off-Broadway run in 2004 starring Viola Davis.

The SIUC production features Racquel McKenzie (Evanston) as Esther Willis, the seamstress with dreams; Niko Miller (Lake Bluff) as George, the would-be groom; Brittney Benson (Joliet) as Mrs. Dickson, Esther’s landlady; Leslie Jordan (Chicago) as Mayme, a bright and artistic prostitute; Landon Sutton (Wendell, N.C.) as Mr. Marks, owner of a cloth factory; an Laura Colin (Homewood) as Mrs. Van Buren, a wealthy socialite.

Susan Patrick Benson directs, with sets by William Snyder, costumes by Beth Clark, lighting by Michael Frohling and sound design by Bryce Dale Allen.

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for senior citizens and $6 for students. Get tickets in advance at the McLeod box office in the Communications Building from noon to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.