KPBS AIRDATE: March 24, 2006
Small stitches; big, operatic emotions. A heart-breaking life in the past; a frightening conception of the future. Two dramatic productions that, as a thinking person, you dare not miss: “Intimate Apparel” and “The Twilight of the Golds.”
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2004, “Intimate Apparel” is currently the most produced play in the country. It’s another of playwright Lynn Nottage’s dramatic attempts to burrow into the dark, forgotten corners of black history. Inspired by a few old photos, one beautifully re-created in the final moments of the stunning San Diego Repertory Theatre production, Nottage created Esther Mills, a turn-of-the-20th-century seamstress who sews glamorous undergarments for wealthier New York women, black and white. She’s good-hearted but lonely, 35 years old and single, still waiting for a good man to come along. Though she’s illiterate, she starts up a correspondence by proxy, with a lusty Barbados worker on the Panama Canal. The postal relationship turns into a marriage proposal, and the first act ends in a hopeful matrimonial photographic pose. But you know things are gonna go South from there, and they do, in a gut-wrenching way. Gifted director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg brings depth, nuance and subtlety to the script, with rock-solid, understated Lisa Renee Pitts anchoring the piece as the practical but romantic Esther. An outstanding ensemble swirls around her in Fred Kinney’s marvelous, split-level set, each carving out a credible character that helps define the boundaries of class, color, friendship, trust and love. The lighting and costumes are superb and the story may just make you weep.
The past gives way to the future, and the future isn’t so far off in “The Twilight of the Golds.” When Jonathan Tolins wrote and set the play in 1993, and when I first saw it here that year, and again in 1996, I thought it was provocatively futuristic. Now, it seems we’re a heartbeat away from the being able to know that an unborn child is going to be homosexual. That’s the quandary Suzanne Gold-Stein and her genetics researcher husband are catapulted into. The news unnerves everyone, especially her brother, who’s gay. David Gold, the funny/sarcastic/melodramatic opera queen, feels that terminating this pregnancy would be like erasing his life. To David, the traumatic dissolution of his neurotic New York Jewish family parallels “The Twilight of the Gods,” the final opera in Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” where the fate of the world is decided. At Diversionary Theatre, under the assured direction of Rosina Reynolds, all the humor, drama and pathos of the play are underscored. Especially delectable is the palpable sibling bond between endearing Matthew Weeden and adorable Amanda Sitton.
These productions make you question your own thinking about the limits of science, acceptance and love.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.