At first glance, “Intimate Apparel” might feel like “Real Housewives of New York” circa 1905. But playwright Lynn Nottage’s lovely tale of an African-American seamstress is deceptively rich, despite its simple framework. 

Though void of any remarkable plot twists, the Lyric Stage Company’s latest production overcomes potential shortcomings with strong characters whose stories offer a glimpse into divergent Manhattan lives and cultures from more than a century ago. Director Summer L. Williams sets the tone with a quiet elegance that lets you know you’re watching something special.   

Esther (Lindsey McWhorter) is an accomplished seamstress whose custom corset clients include unfulfilled society maven Mrs. Van Buren (Amanda Ruggiero) and busy prostitute Mayme (Kris Sidberry). Her circle of influence also includes Mr. Marks (Nael Nacer), a Romanian-born Orthodox Jew who owns the fabric store where she shops and Mrs. Dickson (Cheryl Singleton), the owner of the rooming house where she lives.

The course of all their lives changes almost immediately after Esther begins corresponding with George (Brandon G. Green), a Panama Canal worker introduced by mail by a mutual friend. Their letter-writing relationship, which feels like a precursor to online dating, results in the marriage of two people who barely know each other.

McWhorter is understated as Esther, but every gentle move and graceful gesture feels like an organic extension of the character’s words. She quietly gets you so invested in Esther it’s impossible not to have a visceral reaction to her highs and lows.

Green proves equally adept at delivering the duality of George, while Kris Sidberry brings both levity and sadness to her outstanding portrayal of Mayme. Local favorite Singleton demonstrates, yet again, why theater fans would like to see her work more often.

Ultimately, “Intimate Apparel” works because of the strength of its ensemble and their commitment to the simple yet powerful story.


If you go

“Intimate Apparel”

Through March 14

Lyric Stage

140 Clarendon St.

$25 - $66, 617-585-5678