Intimate Apparel is the story of a woman named Esther. In 1905, Esther is a 35-year-old woman who lives in a rooming house with other single ladies. She is a skilled seamstress who makes her living creating beautiful intimate apparel – intricately detailed corsets, slips, and lingerie. Her talent is matched only by her discretion, which has served her well. Her clients range from a high society, Fifth Avenue lady who wants to have a baby, to a hardscrabble prostitute with big dreams of becoming a concert pianist someday. Esther has her own goals. She has been saving her money for nearly 20 years to open a beauty salon where black women can go to relax and be pampered and treated like ladies. But she also dreams of getting married. Worried that it may be getting too late for her to ever find a good man to wed, she is surprised when she starts receiving letters from a potential suitor, George Armstrong. Could this be the man of her dreams? She’s going to find out. After months of letters back and forth to Panama, where he’s been working on the new canal, George is coming to New York – and he’s got marriage on his mind.
In Everyman Theatre Company’s production of Intimate Apparel, the role of George – Esther’s love interest – is played by Bueka Uwemedimo. Esther’s friend / client / confidante – the plucky prostitute, Mayme – is played by Jade Wheeler. The actors last worked together here, at Everyman, on a different Lynn Nottage play – Ruined – which was also directed by Intimate Apparel‘s director, Tazewell Thompson.
Wheeler and Uwemedimo were able to take a few minutes away from their hectic performance schedules to answer a few questions for me.
Patricia: Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Bueka Uwemedimo: Hi my name is Bueka Uwemedimo. I am a British actor originally from Lagos, Nigeria. After getting married, five years ago, I relocated from London, England to Washington, DC to pursue my career abroad.
Jade Wheeler: Hey there! I’m Jade Wheeler – a self-described Navy Brat. As a kid, I loved traveling, and DC was probably the first place I considered “home.” I have been on the move since 2012, allowing my career to guide me. The goal is to expand my network to New York, and eventually abroad – France, in particular.
How does it feel to be back at Everyman? What feels the same / different?
BU: Everyman Theatre is a wonderful space to perform. Vinny [Founding Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi] and the entire staff are fantastic to work with.
JW: It feels wonderful to be back at Everyman. Vinny is so warm, and the whole company is just incredibly welcoming.
You’re back working with each other, on a Lynn Nottage play, with Tazewell Thompson directing. Does it feel like deja vu? A family reunion?
BU: I would say it feels more like progression and growth than deja vu. There is so much I’ve learned since my first appearance at Everyman Theatre (playing the role of Fortune Mukengeshayi in Ruined). It’s a pleasure to work with Jade again – even though we don’t interact physically in this play. Miss Wheeler’s positive energy and dedication to her work is very inspiring to witness.
JW: It is definitely a reunion of sorts, and it feels great to work alongside friends who I admire. This is my third time being directed by Tazewell (following Ruined at Everyman and Lost in the Stars with Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center), and it’s a blessing. He has a keen eye and clear vision. I have grown so much under Tazewell’s direction and from working with such strong artists! Company member Dawn Ursula, Bueka, and the rest of the cast are all stellar. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this process.
What drew you to this play?
BU: I love working with Tazewell. He is an actor’s director. I truly appreciate how he will allow you as an actor to find your truth within the words of your character, and then he will sculpt and shape that truth like a fine art painter. This is actually my third production with Tazewell, and I am so honored to learn from one of the great masters in the field!
JW: Can I say “ditto” to Bueka’s answer? In addition to working with Tazewell again, Everyman itself is a draw; I love the work that Vinny and the team here accomplish. And Lynn Nottage writes such fascinating female characters. This is my third Lynn Nottage character, having played both Sophie and Josephine in Ruined.
Name a way you are similar to or different from your character. Does your character have any qualities you admire or wish you possessed more of in your real life?
BU: George Armstrong is a very charming character. He oozes strength, charisma, and confidence, which are qualities that most people (myself included) would find admirable. And, although I do relate to some of these qualities now in my adult years, that wasn’t always the case when I was a growing up. As a young teenager in London, I was very shy when it came to the ladies. My first girlfriend actually asked me out, because I didn’t read the signs of love she was throwing my way. Ironically, I could easily stand in front of a large group of my peers and tell stories, jokes or sing, all day – but, when it came to girls, I was all awkward silence and sweaty palms. As I became older, my confidence really grew thanks in great deal to performing on various musicals and acting on stage. Now, I sometimes teach performing arts in schools and colleges, and it’s great when I see young aspiring actors slowly grow in confidence through the arts.
JW: I like to focus on the similarities (or truths) we share, and use those overlaps to inhabit the characters I play. For example, Mayme and I are both extroverted, and share a strong love of music. However, she was not afforded the same opportunities in 1905 that she might have today.
What have you been doing since your run of Ruined, here at Everyman, in 2015?
BU: Since my run of Ruined at Everyman in 2015, I have been fortunate enough to have performed at other great theatres in and around the DMV. I especially enjoyed working with director Alex Levy and the team at 1st Stage, in Tysons, Virginia, on the production of The Good Counselor, by Kathryn Grant, which was nominated for a Helen Hayes award.
JW: Shortly after Ruined closed, I spent nearly 6 months in Europe, taking classes and honing my craft. Upon my return, I performed my one woman show, Who is Eartha Mae?, which examines Eartha Kitt’s childhood, early career, blacklisting, and ‘welcome home.’ It won Best Cabaret at the United Solo Fest, 2016, and I plan to apply to other festivals. I have been working up and down the East Coast, and I’m now trying to dig my claws into the New York scene.
What’s next for you after Intimate Apparel?
BU: I am actively seeking representation with a legit New York agent. Being so close to the city, I often drive in weekly for auditions on Broadway, TV and film work.
JW: I have a few months before my next project, so I’ll be auditioning, taking classes, and meeting with agents. I am fortunate to be a part of John Strand’s The Originalist, directed by Molly Smith, which is headed to the Court Theatre in Chicago, in May.
Do you have a website or social media where folks can keep up with where you’re performing?