Intimate Apparel ‘history recreated’

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110735997315277.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘Velma Austin and JoNell Kennedy star in Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, directed by Jessica Thebus at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.’);

A rich, full season continues at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Cherry Orchard

Continuing its three-month run in the Upstairs Theatre is Anton Chekov’s Cherry Orchard. Tina Landau directs a stunningly staged and costumed portrayal of the playwright’s examination of Russian society. Playing through March 5, it is the season’s outstanding production.

The Bluest Eye

With a limited engagement in February, Lydia Diamond has adapted Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. A touching story of 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who dreams of having blue eyes. If only a magical change could occur, she would be loved. With performances Feb. 5, 12, 13 and 19 at 11 a.m., it focuses on young audiences.

Intimate Apparel

Renowned playwright Lynn Nottage bases her work on her great grandmother, a seamstress, who made intimate apparel at the turn of the 20th century. An admirer of those who research the history of their work, my admiration for this particular production is based on the complete accuracy of every detail.

Set in New York City in 1905, Esther, the seamstress lives in a rooming house run by Mrs. Dickson (Cheryl Lynn Bruce). Played by Velma Austin, Esther represents the independent black woman of her time. Her exquisite lingerie enhances the wardrobes of Park Avenue society as well as the prostitutes of Harlem.

The gorgeous fabrics from which she fashions her creations are acquired from Mr. Marks (Eli Goodman), a Rumanian Jew. Representing the immigrations of the early 1900s, they both strive for success in their new world. Mayme (JoNell Kennedy), too, is a businesswoman. Her musical talent cannot support her lifestyle, so she sells another commodity. Kymberly Mellen plays the Park Avenue matron, Mrs. Van Buren. Literally abandoned by her husband, Esther becomes her only friend.

At 35, the seamstress has resigned herself to the life of a spinster when the arrival of a letter from George Armstrong (Morocco Omari) changes her life. Working as a laborer on the Panama Canal, he woos her by mail. Unable to read or write, Esther entreats Mrs. Van Buren to become the writer of her responses. The complications of mixed messages dominates the second act, and it is only the seamstress’ determination and strength that sees her through.

An outstanding cast that identifies so well with its characters makes Intimate Apparel a piece of history recreated on stage. Playing through March 13, tickets are available at or by phone at 312-335-1650.

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