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Theater Mon Sep 19 2011

Intimate Apparel at Theatre School at DePaul

Lynn Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Broadway favorite, is known for writing thought-provoking plays about African women and the African-American experience. Here, Phyllis Griffin, Associate Professor at the Theatre School at DePaul University, discusses directing Nottage's Intimate Apparel and why it was chosen to kick off the school's 2011-2012 theater season.

P GRIFFIN.jpg

Phyllis Griffin, DePaul University

How did you become involved with this project? Were you always a fan of Lynn Nottage?

I had been aware of Nottage's work and have become a fan of hers since directing this play. I think she's a powerful writer with interesting subject matter.

Of all Nottage's plays, why was this one specifically chosen for performance at DePaul?

Intimate Apparel is regarded by many of us in the Theatre School as her strongest play. We also chose it because I'd be able to work with a cross section of actors within the casting pool--I hadn't really been able to do that for a long time because normally, I had selected plays that are totally African-American. I did this in an effort to support the black actors at the theater school because I believe they need to be in that kind of environment at least once before they step out of the building.

How would you describe your vision or approach to the play upon being asked to direct it?

I read the play and said, "This is really beautiful." I come from a generational, cultural background where there was a lot of diversity and I thought, "Let me travel down this path since it's being provided for me and that there are other actors in this curriculum who also want to work with me who aren't African-American. Let's just open the door and have this experience."

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Intimate Apparel: Anne Prichard (Mrs. Van Buren) and Krenee Alisha (Esther). Photo: Anna Ables.

What relevance do you think this story has to our current society?

If I were a young woman of color today and was able to see this play, it might begin to stimulate thought about the possibility that I might be able to take on a craft. It might stimulate ideas about how I might be able to carve out a career for myself--that it's possible.

Any other relevance?

The audience might be kind of weary of all the divisiveness in the news--that divisiveness brings on fear. I think what Lynn is attempting to do is describe boundaries and what happens when those boundaries intersect. There are barriers set by each culture, so to watch that dissolve before our eyes really lightens our hearts. No one gets to be all bad in Lynn Nottage's play--and that's what I like about it.

What was it like working with this cast of students? Did you learn from them or vice versa?

We learned from each other about the story. There's a tremendous amount of joy and eagerness to do well and to be able to connect with fellow actors on stage in such a way that we buy into real human behavior, which was an incredible journey. Lynn Nottage makes it easy for actors to buy into real human behavior on stage.

What are you most proud of about this production?

The work of the ensemble--starting with the text of Lynn Nottage--it brings everyone together. I'm also proud of the all-female stage management team; this was a one-year journey to mount this show. Everybody who has had a hand in it--the production team, designers, the school itself--they can't wait to see his play. It's an exciting moment for the school.

What do you want the audience to take away from the play?

That they see Esther's journey--a young woman who is very isolated and alone, desiring to have some of meaning in her life that she can come home to and rely on. Also, to see how she goes about establishing a family for herself--making a mistake along the way--and how she resolves that so she comes away with something at the very end.

Intimate Apparel previews September 28-29; opens Thurs., Sept. 30 through Oct. 9 at DePaul's Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo. Show times are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm; Sunday shows are at 2pm. Tickets are $10-$15. For more information, call 312-922-1999.

 
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