Final Show Day

Today is the final performance of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.  We are very sad to have to say goodbye to this play and its characters, but we know we are lucky to have one more Lynn Nottage play in our season! Mud, River, Stone is sure to be another exciting adventure.

Through this play, Lynn Nottage has given us the opportunity to see into the world of 1905 and get to understand it better.  And more importantly, she has given us the the ability to see what Esther’s life was like and what the harsh realities of the time were.  In the spirit of honoring what we now know about people who were nearly lost to history, here are some of Lynn Nottage lines:

Esther: The other day George asked me to read a letter. I took it in my hand and I lied. I lie every day. And I’m a Christian woman.

Mrs. Van Buren: We do what we must, no? We are ridiculous creatures sometimes.

Esther: Do you love Mr. Van Buren?

Mrs. Van Buren: I am a married woman, such a question is romantic.

(Act II, Scene 3)

 

Sometimes its easy to forget that among the big changes in history and the inventions, there were people dealing with real loneliness and hurt.  Thank you to Lynn Nottage for revealing the humanity in these characters’ lives.  We are so excited to continue our discovery of Lynn Nottage’s work in our next production!

 

An Interview with the Actor Playing GEORGE

Intimate Apparel actor Brandon Greenhouse was interviewed by Isabel Corona about his experience with the play and the rehearsal process, and here is what she found out!

Acting for the better part of the last fifteen years, Brandon Greenhouse, has recently been nominated for the Ossie Davis Award (Best Featured Actor in a Play) for the Black Theater Alliance Awards for his portrayal of George Armstrong in Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel. This is his Eclipse Theatre debut.

Greenhouse graduated from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design with a BFA in acting and after moving to Chicago he went to Northern Illinois University for his MFA in acting. He has worked with American Players Theatre, American Theatre Company, and American Film Institute. He trained in the Meisner Technique, a technique he continues to apply to his work.

“At the core of what it is is being alive in the moment and being present with your scene partner,” Greenhouse said. “I struggle to do it in my own work – to actually be present. I always refer to it as being electric and being able to respond to any stimuli whether you knew it was coming or not.”

As the Barbadian George, Greenhouse has to portray him as the sweet and charming man writing letters and then switch over to someone almost entirely different. Greenhouse sees him as an outsider from all the outsiders in the show and he said it “feels like two different plays sometimes.”

“He’s coming from a very patriarchal world and now finding himself in these circumstances where he has a wife who is the breadwinner and doesn’t quite understand him,” He said. “They can’t seem to find a common ground. I think that’s where it comes in most, where I allow myself to truly hear things for the first time and try to keep that alive.”

With his later actions in the play, George is often painted as the villain, but it’s not always so clear.

“I think George is a good guy who’s been put in really complicated situations,” Greenhouse said. “I think it’s interesting to watch the play and walk away with the feeling that this person’s the bad person and this person’s the good person. What I think is really wonderful about the play is that it’s not that simple and it never really is that simple in life

“Steve [Scott] was really clear in the fact that just as Esther didn’t get what she thought she was going to get, George didn’t necessarily get what he thought he was going to get. So it’s two people that present false versions of themselves to one another.”

While the complex character was a bit confusing at first, Greenhouse was able to approach and connect the two versions of George after some thought.

“I was able to stop trying to reconcile the two of them and create this sort of like line between the two of them. Trust that there were going to be things there that existed in the first act that were true to who George was in the second act,” he said. “But also more than anything understanding that those pieces are going to fall where they may.”

His good relationship with director Steve Scott throughout the production served as good learning experiences as well.

“The thing that I took away from Steve the most is that he’s super intelligent. He knows what he’s talking about but he’s super open to others opinions at the same time,” Greenhouse said. “He doesn’t talk down to you. He has a lot of passion and love for this play and it just showed in the way that he directed with such love and such heart. That’s contagious. When you feel like you’re working with a director who is striving for excellence it makes you want to meet that standard as well.”

Even though he said he feels most like George, Greenhouse said he wishes he “has as much fun as Mayme, and was as sure as Mrs. Dickson, and had the sensitivity of Mr. Marks and Esther’s strength at the end of the play” likely due to his hope of the audience being able to connect with the characters.

“I think the idea that although life may not turn out the way that you want it to turn out, there’s always something to be grateful and there’s always hope,” He said. “Hope for rebirth and growth and the idea that there’s something to be learned from every struggle and trial we go through as human beings. It’s a metataking on loneliness and a celebration of humanness.”

Nottage doesn’t offer any information about the future of the characters, so does George get his horses?

“There’s a little part of me that likes to believe he does get his horses, but for some reason I feel like he starts a new life,” Greenhouse said.

Intimate Apparel will run through Sunday, August 24.

Interviewed by Isabel Corona

 

Panama Canal Turns 100 Years Old!

Last Friday was the Panama Canal’s 100th birthday!

Dubbed one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in order to expedite international trade. Upwards of 13,000 vessels a year make the 48-mile journey between the oceans, moving over 200 million tons of cargo.

 

 

Take a minute to acknowledge the enormous feat accomplished by mankind, and learn more about what George’s life was like as he helped to build the Panama Canal.  Click here to continue reading the article and to see more pictures, or take a look at some of our Dramaturgical Research on Intimate Apparel.

Throwback Thursday!

Can you guess who’s in this picture?

 

Plaza Suite by Neil Simon

 

It’s our most beloved Frances Wilkerson who is playing Mrs. Dickson in Intimate Apparel this season!

She is pictured here with Artistic Director Nathaniel Swift in Eclipse’s 2008 production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite.

New York City’s Population Changes and Intimate Apparel

The great things about plays set in the past is that you get a bit of an idea of what that time was like. Luckily, Lynn Nottage stays far away from giving us a history lesson, but gives us enough information, that once you find out other information about the period, you discover a lot through the play’s lens.

The play does take place at a time when a lot of people were coming to New York City.  Both Esther and George come to New York City, so you would think they have that in common, and yet the period of nearly 20 years separating their migrations actually means a lot.

At a certain point, WHERE you were coming from became important, even within the African American community in New York City.

In her book, Before Harlem: The Black Experience in New York City before World War I, Mary S. Sacks explains the shift:

The development of chain migrations had a tremendous impact on the nature of the black community in New York City. No longer complete strangers in an unfamiliar environment, later migrants might arrive in the city with a name and perhaps an address of someone who could possibly help the newcomer find a place to live and maybe even provide a lead on a job opening. In addition, as family connections stabilized with extended kin networks being transplanted to New York City, cultural forms could be replicated as well. Residents of particular villages, regions, or states congregated in New York’s tenements, established restaurants that could cater to specific culinary preferences, and prayed together in the profusion of black churches. Forming geographic enclaves in the congestion of New York City, the constant infusion of additional members allowed southerners to begin establishing a degree of cultural continuity in the North. At the same time, while the presence of family members or friends gave new arrivals a certain degree of security, the geographic distinctions being created within New York’s black population precluded the formation of a cohesive community able to collectively resist the poverty and racism affecting all black people in the city. The chain migrations thus offered only a mixed blessing, allowing for the preservation of specific identities, but at the same time making racial unity a greater challenge to achieve.

Guess who else gets someone’s address before coming to the city? George Armstrong!  In rehearsals, we talked about how George reached out to Esther in order to put down roots in New York before getting there.  Who else might he have contacted in this attempt?

But ultimately, despite coming together Esther and George do experience differences that cause them to clash. Here is Mary S. Sacks’ view on the differences between migrant groups.

The disparate experiences of the different groups of newcomers helped foster ethnic, class, and geographic distinctions within the burgeoning black population of New York City. The preservation of strong family and island connections among Afro-Caribbeans allowed them to maintain a separate identity from that of other black Americans. Hoping to avoid the mistreatment faced by native-born black people, many specifically chose to distance themselves from their U.S. brethren by refusing to become citizens. Southerners also tended to sustain their particular customs when opportunities allowed them to do so. And northern-born blacks, confronting an aggravation of race relations and a decline in job prospects, often placed the blame at the feet of the newcomers. As their proportion of the population shrank with each passing decade, this group struggled to privilege its heritage as native New Yorkers by staking a claim—without great success—to elite status.

 

There’s lots more to read! Click here to continue Reading Mary S. Sacks’ research on the period.

Discovering more about Mr. Marks

“What sort of things do you like to do?”  Mrs. Van Buren asks of Esther in Intimate Apparel.
After mentioning her love for going to church, Esther describes her trips to Mr. Marks’ apartment. Her description sounds a bit odd to Mrs. Van Buren, who does not quite get Esther’s taste in “fun.” But what exactly is Esther describing?

“And on Tuesdays… I take the trolley down to Orchard Street, and I climb five flights, in darkness, to this tiny apartment. And, when I open the door my eyes are met…”

In these few short sentences, Lynn Nottage subtly gives us a few clues about where Mr. Marks is living.
If you’ve gotten the chance to take a look at the dramaturgical research on our blog about Mr. Marks, you will know that he is a Romanian Jewish immigrant and would therefore be living near others like him.

Aside from that, we know that he lives on Orchard Street, and thanks to the Tenement Museum in New York City, we actually happen to have quite a bit of information about his street!

According to the Tenement Museum: “An estimated 7000 people lived in 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935” in a tenement that was located there.

Esther talks about how dark it is in Mr. Marks’ building. Here is what the museum has to tell us about that: “In the 1860s, tenements were dark places. At 97 Orchard Street, only the parlor rooms had exterior windows. There was originally no gas light or electricity. Residents relied on kerosene or oil lamps to light the way through dark hallways and rooms.”

So when did they get light?
“Gas lighting was added to the tenement sometime between 1896 and 1905, possibly to comply with the Tenement House Act of 1901, which required a light source on every floor of the public hallway from sunset to sunrise. Tenants paid for gas individually, through a coin-operated gas meter in the kitchen of their apartments. Although Thomas Edison’s “electric illuminating system” went into operation in 1882, 97 Orchard Street wasn’t electrified until sometime after 1918. One resident remembers that electricity was added in 1924, the year he started kindergarten.”

Well, the mood lighting could explain how Mr. Marks and Esther’s chemistry…?

Click here to take a look at the great info and resources the Tenement Museum offers!

Throwback Thursday!

As we begin another weekend of performances of Intimate Apparel, I can’t help but think how much fun we are having this season. Here is a THROWBACK to the first show of the season: Ruined.  This is a picture from rehearsals, before the set was built and before costumes were added!

Last weekend, we got to spend time with Ruined cast members TayLar, Krystal Mosley, and André Teamer at the Playwright Scholars Series reading of Lynn Nottage’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy. Loved getting to continue working with them!