Review: ‘Intimate Apparel’ at Silver Spring Stage

Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage is a bittersweet and brilliantly acted dramedy at Silver Spring Stage, featuring insightful direction from Seth Ghitelman for this period piece with a modern message about love and social class.

David Dieudonne (Mr. Marks) and Christine M. Champion (Esther) in 'Intimate Apparel' at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.
David Dieudonne (Mr. Marks) and Christine M. Champion (Esther) in ‘Intimate Apparel’ at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.

In Intimate Apparel, Esther is a talented seamstress in New York City in 1905. She primarily sews intimate apparel, such as corsets and lingerie, for a wide variety of customers, many of whom are also her good friends, ranging from wealthy New York socialites to poor downtown call girls. Esther has just turned thirty-five years old and is considered an old maid, with no marriage prospects, until she begins a pen pal correspondence with George, a worker in the Panama Canal. The letters blossom into love letters as their feelings deepen, until Esther must decide whether or not to marry her new pen pal, sight unseen, and begin a new life as a married woman.

Christine M. Champion as Esther carries the show with a quiet grace and determination. Her facial expressions are priceless and Champion had the best nonverbal reactions to some of her cast mates’ lines. She displayed a perfect blend of practicality and vulnerability that had the audience rooting for the character’s ambitions from the first moments of the show. A fantastic standout moment (among many) for Champion was her character learning an unnerving development about her pen pal in Act II. She delivered a fragmented monologue in response to the news with heartbreaking strength and composure.

DeJeanette Horne makes a fantastic character transformation as George, Esther’s pen pal and potential husband. Horne performs in a very authentic and impressive accent, as the character is a Barbados native. While Horne has limited interactions with fellow cast mates in Act I, he delivers a series of heartfelt and hopeful monologues representing George’s letters to Esther, which reveal a shocking transformation setup for his character’s deplorable actions later on in Act II.

Another performer showcasing a very sharp contrast between acts was Hana Clarice as Mrs. Van Buren, Esther’s wealthiest, socialite customer. As a lilting Southern belle in a loveless marriage, Clarice delivers some of the funniest one-liners and responses in the show, and her cynical outlook, coupled with a sincere disposition to help Esther reply to the love letters, masks a very surprising character twist in Act II.

Patrice E. Campbell is stylishly sassy as Mayme, a lady of the night and one of Esther’s closest friends. Campbell displays a powerful stage presence and natural ease and showcases her sultry singing skills near the end of Act I. Letha Remington is a delight as Esther’s busybody, nosy landlady, Mrs. Dickson, and Remington was very reminiscent of comedian Wanda Sykes in many of her curt reactions and hysterical comedic deliveries.

However, if Champion carries the show as Esther, David Dieudonne provides the heart and soul as her star-crossed potential lover, Mr. Marks. As the tailor and fabric salesman Esther frequently visits for her inventory, Dieudonne portrays a sweetly sincere, meek and conflicted man. An extremely devout Jewish immigrant, already engaged in an arranged marriage to a woman overseas he has never met, Dieudonne as Marks is forbidden from even touching Esther, but their chemistry is explosive. One of the most poignant moments in the show occurred in a simple scene near the end of Act I when Dieudonne made an unexpected sale to Champion and radiated the emotionally restrained character’s shock and devastation with incredibly few words.

The intimate black box theatrical space provides a perfect venue for the intimate, heartfelt story and Ghitelman utilizes the space for blocking very well. An excellent scenic design provides all of the different story locations in one open space onstage, with separate beds or tables or dressers each remaining in a constant location and representing the various places Esther visits throughout the course of the story. The use of a projection screen at the back of the set nicely allows for additional visual aids and scenic transitions for each scene change.

Running Time: Two hours and fifty minutes, including one intermission.

Intimate Apparel plays through July 20, 2019, at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD 20901. Purchase tickets at the door, at (301) 593-6036 or purchase them online.

Joy Wyne, Set Designer; Katherine Offutt, Lighting Designer; Jeff Miller, Sound Designer; Anne Cary, Properties Designer; Stacy Thomann, Costume Designer; Kelsey Murray, Assistant Costume Designer and Wardrobe Mistress; Sue Pinkman, Hair and Makeup; Emily Sucher, Intimacy Choreographer