‘Love, sex, economy’: CTC opens ‘Intimate Apparel’

After playwright Lynn Nottage won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, she said in an interview that she finds her characters and stories in varied places. Sometimes in a newspaper, “obscure historical texts” or dinner party conversations.

“[S]ome even crawl out of the dusty, remote recesses of my imagination,” she said. “Each play I write has its own unique origin story.”

Chautauqua Theater Company brings forward one of those unique stories — the story of Esther, a black seamstress, and her struggles to be loved — as Nottage’s Intimate Apparel opens at 4 p.m. Saturday in Bratton Theater. The play continues its run at 2:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday.

CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch, who is directing Intimate Apparel, has had her eyes on this play for a very long time.

“Now that I see it coming together, the play is even more magical than I thought it was. It has a spirit and is infectious,” she said. “You want to go deeper and deeper into it.”

The cast includes CTC alumni Tangela Large as Esther, and conservatory actors Matthew Baldiga, Kate Eastman, Kyle Vincent Terry and Whitney White as Mr. Marks, Mrs. Van Buren, George Armstrong and Mayme, respectively.

CTC set a high bar for the season with its successful run of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy said Intimate Apparel will be a different experience thanks to Benesch’s vision.

Intimate Apparel is visually different and emotional in a different way,” Corporandy said. “Vivienne is such an exciting and creative spirit, and her visual standards of excellence are reflected when you see the piece as a whole. You look at the play through her eyes.”

White, who plays Esther’s best friend, Mayme, has previously acted in Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined at Goodman Theatre. She called the playwright’s writing  “smart.”

Intimate Apparel is about working women,” White said. “The three main women characters support themselves. It is important to see them — not in relationship to men, but as individuals — and see their thoughts. I love the economics of the play. It is less about race and about love, sex, economy and money.

Corporandy said CTC has reached the midpoint of its season with the opening of Intimate Apparel, and an exciting week lies ahead.

“When you hear ‘intimate apparel,’ you think of private, sensitive and personal. I don’t know if [Nottage] meant it like this, but when you watch the play, you connect with Esther,” Corporandy said. “You go on this intimate journey where she has a relationship with herself and you see the way people see past her and underneath her. You see her intimate relationships and moments and all of it pulls at your heartstrings.”