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Play gives an intimate look at the early 1900s

BY RACHAEL LANDER | APRIL 16, 2009 7:38 AM

Have a desire to see beautiful lingerie? Well, go no further than the Theatre Building this weekend for the department’s latest play, Intimate Apparel.

Intimate Apparel will open at 8 p.m. today in Mabie Theatre and will continue to run through this weekend and next. The play was written by Lynn Nottage, and has become one of her most successful works.

“We were looking for a play in which we could utilize a diverse cast of actors,” said Intimate Apparel director Tisch Jones.

The play, set in New York City in the early 1900s, revolves around a woman named Esther who is a lingerie seamstress for everyone from the rich to common prostitutes. The play features an array of strong African-American characters, which, Jones said, was a vital part of it being chosen for the spring lineup.

“Doing a play by a female writer of color and making sure there are enough roles for women [is important],” she said. “This play has four strong female roles and only two male roles.”

This is not Jones’ first experience directing Nottage’s work, but it is one that she had to experience with the actors before really developing a passion for it.

“I didn’t have a strong love for the play,” she said. “In working with the actors and the students, they’ve helped me fall in love with the play.”

Aside from the cast’s importance, a lot of time was spent researching the play’s history. That role went to dramaturge and UI graduate student Brett Janecek. He has worked since January to build a strong historical foundation for the directors and actors to use.

“[It] becomes a tool for the actors who are trained in a method style of acting in which they try to get into the role of their character versus a more representation style,” he said. It’s a unique concept to base a play on underwear, he said, and to use lingerie as a starting point for research into the time period.

This year, he did something new with the historical information he gathered — he put it up on Facebook.

“I wanted to be able to share the sometimes esoteric information in a way that was integrated into a technology that most of the cast and production team is already using,” he said.

An added bonus: The information is available on the web, and it will be there for anyone who chooses to do this play in the future, Janecek said.Aside from the actors — many are using their roles in Intimate Apparel as thesis roles — the play also contains some beautiful scenery and couture costumes.

“All the designs are amazing,” Janecek said. “And the set design is unique. If you want to see a great set design, this is a great show to see. Also, all the costumes are period [and] all the corsets have been hand-crafted.”

Despite a fabulous set and a costume collection sewn by hand, what the play is really about is the performance.

“It’s a chance to see some really phenomenal actors who are going to be making a splash in the theater scene in the next couple of years,” Janecek said.


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