Raleigh Little Theatre’s powerful production of African-American playwright Lynn Nottage’s award-winning 2004 Off-Broadway hit Intimate Apparel, smartly staged by RLT youth theater and education director Linda O’Day Young, features a luminous performance by Barbette Hunter as Esther, a Plain-Jane turn-of-the-century black seamstress who lives a life of quiet desperation in Lower Manhattan as she creates fancy undergarments (think Victoria’s Secret) for her more glamorous customers who prowl the streets of the Big Apple, circa 1905, looking for romance in all the wrong places.
Hunter enhances her already considerable reputation as one of the Triangle’s finest actresses with her heartfelt portrayal of a good woman who falls in love with and marries a bad man (Joseph Callender as George Armstrong), and lives to rue the day that she succumbed to his romantic overtures. Callender and Hunter have great chemistry, and he even makes George’s predicament somewhat sympathetic — a Herculean task, given how cruelly George exploits Esther’s affection for him — by depicting the cumulative effect of his fruitless search for suitable employment in Jim Crow New York. George, who started off as the illiterate Esther’s West Indian pen pal, had a good job working on the Panama Canal. But he cannot find comparable work in Manhattan — only menial jobs that his pride won’t allow him to take.
Staci Sabarsky and Sharon Tazewell add colorful characterizations as Mrs. Van Buren, an unhappily married Fifth Avenue socialite, and Mayme, a cheerful prostitute and pianist in a local brothel. Leon Sabarsky is good as Mr. Marks, a Jewish fabric salesman for whom Esther feels great affection, and LaDawna Akins cuts a fine figure as Mrs. Dickson, Esther’s meddlesome landlady.
Director Linda O’Day Young skillfully orchestrates the action, and scenic and lighting designer Rick Young convincingly recreates and illuminates various Manhattan locations and a steamy tent in the jungles of Panama in his imaginative multilevel set. Costume designer Vicki Olson contributes some visually striking period costumes and some especially vivid vintage unmentionables. All in all, this impressive RLT cast and crew pool their considerable talents to make Raleigh Little Theatre’s robust rendition of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel particularly memorable.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Intimate Apparel Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 13-15 and 20-22, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 23, at 3 p.m. in its Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18 ($15 students and seniors 62+). 919/821-3111 or via etix @ the presenter's site. Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/performances/07-08/intimateapparel.html. Lynn Nottage: http://www.lynnnottage.com/about.html [inactive 5/08]. Intimate Apparel: http://www.lynnnottage.com/plays.html#intimate [inactive 5/08]. Study Guide (courtesy Guthrie Theater of Minneapolis, MN): http://www.guthrietheater.org/sites/default/files/intimate_apparel.pdf [inactive 10/08].