Tailored Feelings: "Intimate Apparel" sews together the relationships between a Black clothier, her clientele, and romantic interests


Mr. Marks (Sammy Guthartz) and Esther (Myah Bridgewater) in U-M's production of Intimate Apparel.

Mr. Marks (Sammy Guthartz) and Esther (Myah Bridgewater) flirt with a relationship in U-M's production of Intimate Apparel. Photo via University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Facebook.

Every day we wake up and get dressed. But we rarely think about the people who make our clothing. 

Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage focuses on the emotional life of a clothier in Intimate Apparel, which the University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama is staging through October 8 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

Set in New York City in 1905, Intimate Apparel follows the story of Esther, played by Myah Bridgewater, a Black seamstress who is known for her superb sewing skills. Her clientele is wide-ranging, from wealthy white socialites to Black prostitutes, namely her best friend Mayme (Gilayah McIntosh), and she specializes in fine undergarments. 

Not only is she talented behind a sewing machine, but Esther is also known for being discreet with her customers and their secrets—specifically Mrs. Van Buren (Bella Detwiler), a rich housewife who is having trouble getting pregnant by her husband and is reminded constantly of her failure to do so. 

Esther lives in a boarding house for single women run by Mrs. Dickson (Sophia Lane). Watching the other renters leave over the years, Esther wants nothing more than to find a husband, experience love, and create a beautiful future for herself. She has been able to save up a large sum of money, which she keeps hidden in a quilt that she made, and has dreams of opening her own beauty parlor one day—one where Black customers are treated as equals.

After meeting long distance through a mutual friend, Esther receives letters from George Armstrong (Lenin Izquierdo), a Caribbean man working on the Panama Canal. Their correspondence turns flirtatious and George convinces her to marry him, even though they have never met. Desperate for her happily ever after, Esther agrees to the proposal and George comes to NYC. 

Esther also has feelings for Mr. Marks (Sammy Guthartz), a Hasidic Jew who owns the fabric store where she buys her materials. But she fights with what her heart wants and with what her logic is telling her because a relationship seems impossible.

Does Esther get her Prince Charming? Or do things not appear as they seem? 

Bridgewater gives a beautiful performance as Esther. She is both vulnerable and eager, with a genuine honesty that makes you immediately root for her character, especially when watching Esther’s relationship strengthen with Mr. Marks. Guthartz is an endearing Mr. Marks, and he melts your heart with his almost schoolboy bashfulness whenever he’s around Esther. In a show with numerous dialects, with which some students seemed to struggle, Guthartz nails his. 

McIntosh also gives a strong performance and is a spitfire on the stage as the prostitute Mayme. She does a wonderful job of showing her strength while giving us moments of softness. 

Kevin Judge's gorgeous scene design gives each character their own section of the stage. Esther is the only one who travels between the spaces freely (until a shocking revelation in Act 2), showing she's connected to everyone in the show. The giant pillar of muslin upstage, with multiple drapes of fabric flowing all the way to the catwalk, is a stunning visual and a constant reminder that Esther’s whole world is fabrics and what she creates with them.

Summer Wasung’s costumes are period-perfect while Henry Reynolds’ sound design adds a fun atmosphere.

Intimate Apparel is beautifully executed with a strong ensemble and solid design team. 

Marley Boone is a theater professional who has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she wrote theater reviews for DC Metro Arts.

University of Michigan's Department of Theatre and Drama presents “Intimate Apparel“ through October 8 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, Walgreen Drama Center, 1226 Murfin Avenue, Ann Arbor. For tickets and more information, visit smtd.umich.edu.