By Sasha Schechter
Intimate Apparel was Hall Auditorium’s first show of the semester, directed by faculty member Caroline Jackson-Smith and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage.
The evening was filled with stunning performances by the entire ensemble, emphasized by the brilliant set and lighting designs. The set was made up of five different locations, on three moving platforms and two stationary areas. Each location was home to one of the protagonist, Esther’s (Heather Harvey ’11) clients or friends – a distinction that is hard to make both for Esther and the audience.
The platforms and people on them would move to and from Esther, occasionally leaving her alone on stage with no location around her. Literally and metaphorically, Esther’s network of people would come and go throughout the timeframe of the play. This function of the set wonderfully enforced Esther’s constant loneliness and need for human connection.
While that part of the play’s message was clearly portrayed, another was not. This show proved to be difficult to perform in an environment like Oberlin. At a school that is so focused on strong character and progressive thinking, it’s hard to imagine accepting a female character written to be as weak and desperate as Esther is. I think this conflict – between what the reality of the script is, and what the ideal at Oberlin is – showed in Harvey’s character choices.
Harvey created a strong, determined Esther against sophomore Ralph Johnson’s striking performance as her chauvinist husband. The contrast of the two strong beings never fully clicked with the overarching theme of the play; since Esther’s desperation was subdued, audience members were left grasping for clear-cut answers as to why such a strong woman would let herself end up in such a self-deprecating situation. Regardless of Esther’s character details, the show brought Friday night’s audience to its feet at the end of the show.
The acting in this production was solid and polished; there wasn’t one character on stage that the audience couldn’t understand or relate to. Lisa Brown ’11 (Mrs. Dixon) was particularly memorable; she fit the character so well and managed to entice the audience in the handful of times she was on stage. Similarly, Billy Ferrer ’12 (Mr. Marks) offered an honest and vulnerable performance that added subtle levels to the overall plot.
Samantha Boyd ’11 (Mayme) and Atty Siegel ’12 (Mrs. Van Buren), both friends and/or clients of Esther’s, performed with Harvey in vastly different ways that presented the complete spectrum of Esther’s social life to the audience. These two characters are so vital to understanding Esther’s personal struggles, and Boyd and Siegel worked separately but together to showcase them flawlessly.
The production was, overall, very strong. Regardless of the small issues with interpretation, Intimate Apparel was a comprehensive period piece. It was informative, entertaining, and heartfelt. The bar has certainly been set high for the rest of the semester’s main stage productions.