Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Apparel' Story Sweet and Moving

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Apparel' Story Sweet and Moving

Article excerpt

With every new production of a Lynn Nottage play, area theater audiences get a better chance to experience the world through the words of this gifted and poetic writer.

In the last few years, Asolo Repertory Theatre presented her "Las Meninas," and Florida Studio Theatre staged a fine version of her Pulitzer Prize-winning "Ruined."

Now Venice Theatre's Stage II offers her off-Broadway hit "Intimate Apparel," a graceful play set in 1905 about a 35-year-old African-American woman who has given up on finding a husband and focuses on sewing undergarments for socialites and prostitutes and dreaming of opening a beauty salon with her savings. It deals with prejudice, conventions of the day, and a long to belong and be loved.

The sweet and touching story comes through on the strength of Nottage's words more than the performances in Candace Artim's well- staged and -designed production.

You have to credit Venice Theatre for taking on a challenge like this, providing opportunities to African-American actors who rarely get such meaty roles. The production is competent and often involving. But the cast doesn't dig into the characters. Things are said without the thoughts to support the statements.

But you can't help but be impressed by the effort, particularly Syreeta Banks as the central character, seamstress Esther Mills. In her first non-musical role, and one in which she is almost always on stage, Banks is friendly and determined as Esther, an artist with silk and threads who focuses on her business dreams, assuming that she's too old to find a man.

But one man does present himself, George Armstrong, who has been working on digging out the Panama Canal. He got her name from a mutual acquaintance, and begins to write her letters. Even though Esther can't read, she gets help from her landlady (played by Banks' real mother, Phyllis) and her clients, who help with her correspondence. …

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