Friday, February 15, 2008

Media: Corsets and conversation -- 'Intimate Apparel' a 'people play'

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | DAILY REPUBLIC

SUISUN CITY - The story of a 35-year-old unmarried African-American woman who makes a living sewing women's undergarments is the focus of 'Intimate Apparel,' which opens next week.

The woman, Esther, has customers from all walks of life. And, for some reason, helping them adjust their new corset breaks down the traditional barriers of propriety and she becomes privy to all sorts of private information.

'Intimate Apparel' was penned by Lynn Nottage. The SCT production is directed by Robin Stanton.

Cast members are from around the Bay Area, including Vallejo's Millee Holliday as Mrs. Dickson and Justin DuPuis as Mr. Marks; Fairfield's Mayme Morgan Frazer as Mrs. Van Buren and Vacaville's Stewart Evan Smith as George Armstrong.

Rounding out the cast are Karen Aldridge, of Richmond, as Esther and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, from Alameda, as Mayme.

Nottage brings together a cast ranging from Mrs. Van Buren, a wealthy white woman in an unhappy marriage, to Mayme, an African-American prostitute.

While Esther visits both worlds, she seems most comfortable in that of Mr. Marks, a Romanian Jew, from whom she buys her fabric.

This is just the background. The main plot is Esther's attempt to find love. While Nottage's story addresses the difficulties faced by unmarried black women in the work force circa 1905, it also looks at the gender roles at the time.

'Granted, the main character is a woman,' said Smith. 'And the cast is four women as opposed to two men. But the show transcends gender. It transcends race. It transcends class. It's really a people play.'

While Smith bashfully said, 'being in a play with a bunch of women in underwear is nice, I guess,' he added: 'It's really more of a secondary thing with me.'

He has spent most of his time focusing on his character George Armstrong. 'He's a guy who wants to dream big. He's ambitious. He's just trying to establish himself.

'But he gets caught up in this vicious class and race struggle going on at the turn of the 20th century. That hardens and embitters him. At his core, he's a pretty decent guy. He gets frustrated when things don't go his way,' Smith said.

This is his fourth show with SCT. Smith was in the ensemble for 'Seussical the Musical' and 'Beauty and the Beast.' He was also in 'Raisin in the Sun.'

He's a graduate of the Actor Training Program. While doing 'Comedy of Errors' someone approached him with the script and suggested he try out for the show.

'I like it because it's subtle, but not in the sense you can't tell what goes on,' Smith said of 'Intimate Apparel.' 'There are a lot of undertones. There are a lot of things said and a lot of things that are not said.'

The 2003 Will C Wood High School graduate began his acting career as a junior when he played the Mad Hatter in the school's production of 'Alice in Wonderland.'

This is Holliday's first SCT show. She likes her character, who is Esther's landlord for many reasons. 'She has an elegance about her,' Holliday said. 'She's not what you would consider a traditional woman of color for that era. She is a woman of substance.'

Holliday wanted the role. 'The characters are strong and true to life,' she said.

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or


'Intimate Apparel'

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21 ($12); 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 6; 8 p.m. Feb. 22, 23 and 29 and March 1, 7 and 8; 2 p.m. Feb. 24 and March 2 and 9

Harbor Theater, 720 Main St., Suisun City

$12-$20 adults; $12 seniors and military and $10 students with valid identification and children


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