The drama will be on stage today through Sunday (Oct. 5-7) at Millikin’s Albert Taylor Theatre in Shilling Hall.
The story follows a heroine named Esther as she interacts with people of different social classes, ethnicity and cultures. As an African-American seamstress living in 1905 New York creating intimate apparel for various clients, Esther forms unique relationships.
The play, by Tony-nominated writer Lynn Nottage, first made it to the stage in 2003. It quickly received attention after it won the 2004 New York Dramas Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics awards.
Myers said she decided to present the play to the cast because of the beauty of the people and the language.
"It's about people who seem ordinary on the outside, but we found out how extraordinary they are as we get to know them," she said. "You have an assumption about somebody, but as you watch their lives you realize they're not ordinary at all."
She said the play offers something for everyone, including the cast. The actors have been working on their dialects, including Southern, Jewish and Barbadian.
"Not only are you seeing the different people in different races and levels of social class, but you're hearing them as well," she said. "That is a sense that often isn't tickled."
Actress Ariya Hawkins has been rehearsing as the swing or stand-in for Esther. The rehearsals have given her the opportunity to see the play off stage. She enjoys listening to the dialogue.
“The speech that is written is interesting to the ear. It's all a musical sound,” she said. “When they are interacting with one another, it puts you into a different world. It helps build that intimacy.”
The characters are people with real struggles. The cast believes the audience can learn about themselves from a story set more than 100 years ago.
The title "Intimate Apparel" represents Esther's job, which is to sew intimate apparel for ladies. The sets and the costumes are intimate as well.
"It forces intimacy within the relationships since there are only two people in a scene on small platforms," actress Katie Meyer said. "It creates a sense of closeness."
Meyer’s character is a wealthy woman with an important reputation. Esther’s other clients include a prostitute and a businessman supplying her with material.
The characters come from other far-flung areas, including Tennessee, Georgia and Barbados.
"All these people came to New York for one reason or another," Myers said. "They've all had to adjust to city life."
Adding to the story is Esther’s relationship with someone she has never met. She begins to receive letters from a man who is helping build the Panama Canal. He reaches out her because he wants a pen pal. Their relationship progresses, and they fall in love. Esther is illiterate, but loves the letters she can only look at and hold.
"She uses all of the other characters to write to him and have them read to her," Meyer said. "It is also a idea of submission and having control of your life."
The costumes are a significant historical element of the show. Trey Deluna plays the character Mr. Marx, the fabric salesman.
“The clothing represents how each of the characters are trapped in their own ways,” he said.
Deluna's character wears a long, black suit throughout the play.
"I have to wear it every day because it is part of my religion," he said. "He is trapped in the rules that he has to follow."
Jauhara Sanders' character owns the boarding house where Esther lives. She is one of three women required to wear a corset the entire play. Sanders has been conditioning herself to perform in the tight costume.
"To think, women wore these whenever they were out," she said. "But they were a lot tighter than we are wearing them."
The cast found many similarities between the play and issues of today. Sanders was surprised by what she learned in the story.
"We forget how much people go through in order to get where they are and to be success stories," she said. "You root for them."