Intimate Apparel

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I been living in this rooming house for so long, I reckon Im just another piece of furniture, laments the independent but lonely African-American seamstress Esther Mills in the award-winning Intimate Apparel, now playing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria.

Set in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century, the Lynn Nottage play follows 35-year-old Esther as she is courted by George Armstrong, a Caribbean stranger known only through his letters.

From the moment the curtain rises, all eyes are riveted on Esther, whose longing for passion and intimacy unfolds through a series of two-person scenes with the people who become intertwined in her quest for a better life for herself.

Mesmerizing in the challenging role of Esther is Lory Levitt, who beautifully combines a tender yearning for love with a stoic sense of self-esteem as she loses her heart to the mysterious suitor.

LTA veteran Paul Morton is the charismatic but deceitful George, whose lilting Barbadian charm and disarming smile initially conceal his deliberate and callous intentions with our naive heroine. Morton is especially skillful as he abruptly transitions between the gentle and humble laborer and the selfish and calculating cad who leaves both Esther and the audience heartbroken.

Guiding the vulnerable and confused Esther with mostly unsolicited advice are Robin Dorsey as Mrs. Dickson, Esthers landlady; Danielle Eure as Mayme, Esthers prostitute friend; and Anne Marie Pinto as Mrs. Van Buren, Esthers wealthy but lonely socialite customer.

Each delivers a compelling performance in their supporting roles, with Eure especially captivating as the disenchanted hooker with her own unfulfilled dreams.

But its Esthers friendship with Mr. Marks, the Romanian immigrant who supplies her with fabric, that provides the most poignant and anticipated moments of the evening during their brief encounters in his textile shop.

The forbidden chemistry between Levitt and Nader Tavangar as Marks is particularly touching, with a mere glance or awkward gesture revealing  far more about their feelings for each other than their dialogue.

Integral to the success of this series of vignettes is the skillful lighting and innovative multi-level set design executed by the accomplished LTA team of Ken and Patti Crowley.

Their uncomplicated but ingenious staging is perfectly augmented with period costumes by Suzanne Maloney in this exceptional production by Jennifer Lyman and Lynn OConnell.

Under the masterful direction of Frank Pasqualino, Apparel is a powerful and hypnotic tale of the early struggles of African-American women that deservedly won Nottage numerous honors, including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play in 2004.

The spellbinding performance of Levitt and the entire cast tells a heartwarming tale that resonates with all cultures and generations and is a dramatic masterpiece that should not be missed.

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