February is seeing a growing number of onstage narratives that celebrate the vibrant stories of people of color in America.
Small and big stages alike have been showcasing tales of identity and tribulation, with performances that spotlight historically relevant figures as well as the intimate, personal journeys of common people. With the premiere of Pulitzer-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, directed by Company One co-founder Summer Williams, Lyric Stage seems to continue the trend.
The play marks a bit of a departure for Williams. Her most recent credits include “Shiv,” one of the plays in The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy by Aditi Brennan Kapil, a drama that explored themes of dysphoria and post-colonialism, and the New England premiere of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s difficult and darkly funny We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, which were both produced by Company One.
“It’s really great to be able to work within other organizations and to do something that I wouldn’t necessarily have the option to do with my theater company. Lyric gives me the opportunity to do that,” Williams says. “I think they’re working hard to make sure that their doors are always open, and that the open door policy exists throughout the season, not just one time.”
Set in the 20th century, the play is a portrait of Esther, a black seamstress who crafts intricate lingerie for wealthy Manhattanites. Williams describes Intimate Apparel as a gorgeous story of romance and risk—just in time for Valentine’s Day—possessing a universality that will draw in contemporary audiences as well.
“I think it’s a highly feminist story,” Williams says. “For me, it really feels particularly empowering to see a story where there are some really tough situations that the protagonist faces—and she’s not broken by the end of it. It feels true to life.”
She emphasizes the rich visual quality of the play, and how the dynamic space coupled with the lush, tender narrative will result in an intimate experience for the audience as well. “We’re asking the audience to go on this journey with us,” she says.
Overall, Williams anticipates that audiences will find something that speaks to them within the play, and that they will recognize the core message inherent within Intimate Apparel: that there is something beautiful in choosing to risk it all and love another person.
“I hope that [audiences] feel that they see themselves represented,” she says, “and are reminded that it’s important to keep dreaming and desiring more for your life.”