The Oracle

“Intimate Apparel” brings Manhattan to Hamline

The Theatre and Dance Department’s newest play, Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel,” runs through Saturday, March 12 in Anne Simley Theatre.


"Intimate Apparel" opened last weekend in Anne Simley Theatre and shows continue through this Saturday, March 12. The principal character, Esther Mills, is played by actress Ashe Jaafaru.

Matthew Doroff

Matthew Doroff

"Intimate Apparel" opened last weekend in Anne Simley Theatre and shows continue through this Saturday, March 12. The principal character, Esther Mills, is played by actress Ashe Jaafaru.

Justin Christensen, Senior Reporter

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An African-American seamstress, a Jewish fabric supplier and a Barbadian laborer are just a few of the voices that Hamline’s Theatre and Dance Department bring to life in their first mainstage Spring performance, “Intimate Apparel.” Set in Manhattan in 1905, this play not only gives identity to marginalized voices, it also illuminates a turbulent time period in America.

“Intimate Apparel” follows Esther Mills, the aforementioned African-American seamstress, as she tries to balance her life as a seamstress and her longing to find love. Her only promising prospects are with Mr. Marks, a fabric supplier who is entering an arranged marriage, and George, a laborer working on the Panama Canal whom she only communicates with through letters.

All of these interactions lead to an extremely character-driven play that jumps from being sassy and humorous to sad and reflective. This emotional range is helped in part by superb acting. Everyone seems to know their role well and the accents sound spot-on.

Besides the acting, the play has an element of relatability to it even though it’s set in 1905. Ashe Jaafaru (‘16), the actor who plays Esther Mills, believes that students will be able to take something from the production.

“I think people are going to relate to it,” she said. “I think they are going to see themselves in these situations.”

The situations presented in the play are all inspired by two photographs. One is of an unidentified African-American couple, and the other is of an unidentified African-American seamstress. Through the play, Lynn Nottage gives the people in these photographs an identity and a voice. Jaafaru talked about the need to hear these voices.

“It’s really important to highlight these stories,” she said.

The Theatre Department’s production has brought these stories to life not only through the acting, but also through the costumes and set design. The set contains multiple levels and rooms, and the actors often stay on the set even when they aren’t in the current scene. This gives the set a living, breathing feel; there is often a lot going on, much like bustling Manhattan.

Gavin Jensen (‘19), in attendance opening night, enjoyed this authenticity.

“I thought that the style really matched the era, and that the people in charge of costumes really put a lot of thought into the work when they made the show,” he said.

One of the highlights of the play is Esther’s interactions with Mayme, a prostitute who Esther makes garments for. There are some really tender and insightful moments in their conversations, a highlight being when they both share their dreams with each other. Jensen seemed to enjoy these interactions.

“Mayme’s character is one of the best,” he said. “She [Jacqueline Stewart] plays her character very well.”

The audience in attendance last Friday night also appeared to share Jensen’s enthusiasm. Laughter and applause echoed excitedly throughout the room during the appropriate times, as well as gasps during the play’s more shocking moments.

For a character-focused play with only six actors, the twists and turns are refreshing and portrayed by the group quite well.

“Intimate Apparel” is a thematically relevant and solid play for The Theatre and Dance Department to choose this spring. The historical, racial and gender-based circumstances that the characters experienced during this time can never be exactly replicated, but with an open mind, a viewer may be able to translate these experiences into contemporary culture.

“Intimate Apparel” runs through March 12, with all times at 7:30 p.m. in Anne Simley Theatre. For more information, visit

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“Intimate Apparel” brings Manhattan to Hamline