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Play House stages an unsexy play about lingerie

The Play House stages an unsexy play about lingerie. It's no mere coincidence that Intimate Apparel, about a black seamstress, will be performed on the Cleveland Play House stage throughout Black History Month. "That was part of the deal," laughs artistic director Michael Bloom. The play — a co-production with the Actor's Theatre of Louisville — opens tonight and features a cast of New York actors. The critical hit centers on a 35-year-old single woman, living in 1905 Manhattan, who falls for a letter-writing lothario she's never met.

Intimate Apparel crosses several genres. It's a romance. It's a race drama. There are even moments of humor. Most of all, says Bloom, it's a story about "an indomitable African American spirit." And that's what intrigued him. The poor and illiterate protagonist, Esther, makes fancy lingerie for clients, both upscale (bored white socialites) and not-so-upscale (a black prostitute who longs for something better). A young Orthodox Jewish immigrant, a friendly landlady, and meddling, well-meaning customers round out the roles. "They're historical American characters," says Bloom. "It's a traditional immigrant tale about African American and white immigrants making their way through the world."

Best of all, says Bloom, Nottage's play, first performed in 2004, is a classic piece of American theater. "It has an optimistic spirit," he says. "In a way, it's about ordinary people who are tremendously willful, strong, and intelligent."
Feb. 7-8, 7:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 23, 1:30 p.m. Starts: Feb. 7. Continues through March 5

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