By Lynn Nottage
February 18th – 27th, 2022
Directed by Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates
Scenic Design: Tomya Pryor
Costume Design: KT Farmer
Lighting Design: Austin Harber
Sound Design: Kelsey Cordrey
Production Stage Manager: Emily Ellen
All production photos by Aaron Sutten
VCUarts Theatre presents Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage. Set in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, Intimate Apparel is a tale of love and heartbreak centered around Esther, a skilled and independent Black seamstress who dreams desperately of finding love.
About Intimate Apparel
The year is 1905, and the place is New York City. Esther is a Black woman and skilled seamstress in her mid-thirties—pragmatic, yet a romantic at heart. She lives in a boarding house and creates intricate, beautiful corsets and negligees for her clients of all societal levels, from prostitutes to wealthy housewives. Working alone in her boarding house room, she squirrels away money for her dream of opening a salon catered to Black women—while the other single residents marry eligible men and move out (and on). A charming Barbadian man working on the Panama Canal starts sending Esther letters. After months of written correspondence, George Armstrong travels to New York with marriage on his mind… Follow Esther and the varied characters in her life as they make their way in New York – hear the secret confessions of her clients, the chiding of her imposing boarding house owner, and meet the two men who find their way to her heart.
Historical context of Intimate Apparel
Nottage created Intimate Apparel as an imagined history inspired by the few details she knew of her own great grandmother, a seamstress who lived in New York and married a Barbadian immigrant. The backdrop of this era in New York looms large throughout the play. The early twentieth century was a time of great social and political change in the U.S. The damaging Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Fergusson which created the “separate but equal” policy that legalized discrimination based on race in the U.S. happened in 1896, nine years before the play takes place. In 1900, racial tensions in the city erupted into the infamous New York City Race Riot after an incident between a Black man and an undercover white police officer ended in the officer’s death. In the same year the play takes place, 1905, the Niagara Movement was founded by W.E.B. DuBois and other Black intellectuals to combat racial discrimination and segregation, and starting in 1910 the First Great Migration saw many Black southerners relocate to northern and midwestern cities. In such far reaching movements, individual voices are often lost to history. Nottage’s work gives voice to the forgotten, marginalized individual by giving us an intimate look at the personal life of a Black woman living in the midst of this time of political and social upheaval.