Intimate Apparel at The Arts Club (guest review by @TrevorJurgens)

One word sums up the Arts Club’s production of Lynn Notable’s Intimate Apparel from top to tail: craftsmanship. Starting with award-winning script it weaves through the resourceful set design, perfect-fit casting, meticulous costumes and precise acting.

It’s 1905. New York City. 35-year-old Esther is an independent African-American woman who makes a good living sewing exquisite undergarments and corsets for brides-to-be. But she yearns to wear one of her own creations. When a mysterious stranger from the Caribbean strikes up a pen-pal relationship, the romance that blooms promises to fulfill all her dreams.


Marci T. House and Marsha Regis in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Intimate Apparel. Photo by David Cooper.

The story unfolds in 1905 New York and revolves around Esther (Marci T. House) a single thirty-five year old seamstress who specializes in elegant intimates. She is strong willed and dreams of owning her own beauty salon. When Esther receives a letter from a mysterious suitor, we are introduced to George Armstrong (Daren Hebert) a Caribbean laborer working on the Panama Canal. George (Hebert) hooks the audience at first glance with his good looks and idyllic charm. As the correspondence continues the audience anticipates his next appearance like Esther craves George’s next letter.

Things play out in multiple sets that provide a voyeuristic view into the various boudoirs including Esther’s own boardinghouse room. Set designer Pam Johnson accomplishes a lot with the limited space at her disposal. I felt transported to Brooklyn at the turn of the century and learned some interesting things about the era, not the least of which is how little the challenges of love and relationships have changed over the last hundred years.

The plot is tied together with series of orders for hand-made corsets. Fortunately for Esther, and us, her business requires regular trips to Mr. Marks’ (Jonathon Young) shop for fine fabric and delicate flirtation. Mr Marks’ always has the choicest fabrics and is an artist in his own right. He spins romantic yarns about each fabric’s provenance while seducing Esther (willingly) into buying more than she came for. In a performance that reminded me of John Malcovich, Jonathon Young adds spots of color and comedy with his quirky Romanian accent and curious diction. For me the moments in Mr. Marks shop managed to outshine the other already glowing scenes.

The performance moves along with the rat-tat-tat of a well-oiled machine accompanied by an old time rag tune. With perfect pacing the two-hour show went by quickly and I didn’t want it to end. When the fast paced banter slowed, it focused attention onto the highly intimate exchanges between characters. This and the strong performances by the entire cast got the audience deeply invested. For me it was literally a gut-wrenching scene when it becomes clear to Esther and the audience that life is not always the stuff of dreams and love letters.

Clearly the opening night audience appreciated fine work. The actors were with a standing ovation and curtain call. This will not be the only positive review of Intimate Apparel. It is a great live theatre experience that I found very accessible and highly recommend.

Intimate Apparel is playing at the Granville Island Stage until March 10th. Showtimes and tickets are available online on The Arts Club website.

Disclosure and statement of authorship:This guest review was written by Trevor Jurgens in exclusive coverage of The Arts Club’s production of Intimate Apparel for Trevor attended the play on media tickets in my representation, tickets were provided to Trevor is, in his own words, a Marketing and Communications professional that connects people to their passions, their peers and the brands that will matter to them. Be it jaded teenagers or exhausted moms, the clever communications he develop engage people and snap them into action. You can read more from him on his site, or follow him on Twitter at @TrevorJurgens. Thanks Trevor for agreeing to guest review for me! As always, I (Raul) retain full editorial control over anything published on my site.

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