January 31, 2013
by Donnetta Lavinia Grays
A funny thing happens when you turn 35. It’s one of many self-reflection years generally falling on the five and ten year increments of birthdays. You suddenly look up, as [playwright] Lynn Nottage allows her “Esther” to do, from the trudges of life and take inventory of where you’ve been, what you want and what might be missing. What dreams have I fulfilled? What have I done with myself? For others? Who is by my side? And if that which is missing is love – no, not just love – knowing that you are desired, needed, special and significant in someone else’s eyes; then that hole has the power to change the very course on which you were traveling.
There are many reasons it took me less than five minutes to agree to do this reading of Intimate Apparel. First, the play itself. I have studied this play for years. It is heartbreakingly beautiful. "Esther," after years of burying herself in work, finally lifts her head in this self-reflective year and holds the dream of building a business that she has saved for in one hand and the need for an accessible passionate love in the other. The morally complicated meeting and sacrifices made in light of these two longings is painfully moving. I have forever been drawn to "Esther’s" ability to create beautifully delicate things and how, although she is not equally characterized physically, her spirit touches those around her with a similar subtlety. Even to the point of unleashing their own deeply held passions.
As a hopeless romantic, the carefully crafted love story that lives within the - no pun intended - fabric of the play is astonishingly palpable. Needless to say, having worked on Nottage’s material before (playing “Salima” in Arena Stage’s production of Ruined), getting the opportunity to dive into her lush words and into such a fully drawn, vulnerable and ultimately, I believe, sensual character is something I simply could not pass up.
Another reason I jumped at the chance to do this reading was that I could not resist the opportunity to live a character out loud on the Playhouse stage again. And with this cast! I am being joined by actors who I met while working at the Playhouse (Susan Kelechi Watson, Paul Anthony Stewart) and who I consider true friends. That is what happened during the production of Twelfth Night in 2011. Friendships were built, a family was formed and we are all now coming home to play and that makes me tremendously happy. I am also humbled to be joined by actors whose work I greatly admire (Lynda Gravatt, Billy Eugene Jones, Geneva Carr), two of whom I’ve worked with on various projects in New York. Being an actor at Westport Country Playhouse, either in this capacity or in full production, means that you are traversing a trail blazed by some of American’s finest theater makers and storytellers. It is with great pleasure that we are able to guide Intimate Apparel along that path.
Learn more about Intimate Apparel on the Playhouse website.