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University of Iowa News Release


April 3, 2009

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University Theatres returns to Mabie Theatre with 'Intimate Apparel'

The University Theatres Mainstage will return to E.C. Mabie Theatre for the first time since the 2008 flood invaded the University of Iowa Theatre Building with one of the most produced American plays of recent years, Lynn Nottage's "Intimate Apparel," directed by faculty member Tisch Jones. Performances will be at 8 p.m. April 16-18 and 23-25, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, April 19 and 26.

The winner of five national awards for best play, "Intimate Apparel" is the story of Esther, a turn-of-the-20th-century African-American seamstress in New York who creates exquisite undergarments for a diverse clientele, including rich white socialites and her friend who is an artistic, world-weary prostitute. At the age of 35, after 18 years living and working in the same boarding house, she doubts her marriage possibilities, especially with the racial limitations facing a black woman in that era.

Visit the production's Facebook fan page at for a wealth of historical information.

A Curtain Up review said of Nottage, "She's an actor's gift with sly one-syllable humorous punch words; poetic paintings of physical and emotional landscapes; dramatic conflict that pulls no punches and is not afraid to make sympathetic characters unsympathetic; and an intimate knowledge of loneliness and passion."

Nottage has written, "The play was inspired by my great-grandmother, Ethel Boyce, who arrived alone in New York City in 1902. She was an amazing seamstress who specialized in intimate apparel for women. Plain and deeply religious, it was believed by her seven younger sisters that she would never marry.

"But, despite the family predictions, she began corresponding with a man in Panama who had seen a portrait of Ethel hanging above her uncle's bunk. That man was to become my great-grandfather, George Armstrong, who left us nothing but a few fragmented tales of the hardship of working on the Panama Canal. He died prematurely when he was hit by a stone while proselytizing on a speaker's corner. The story may be apocryphal, but it's what I've come to embrace as the truth."

The play has been acclaimed for Nottage's evocation of the culture early-20th-century Manhattan. Margo Jefferson wrote in the New York Times, "Nottage has done so much good historical research, and in literary terms she has put the New Yorks of Edith Wharton, James Weldon Johnson and Abraham Cahan on one stage."

Nottage explains, "I found an image in a lingerie history book of a beautiful white satin wedding corset embossed with orange blossoms. It was delicate and graceful -- exactly what I imagined Esther would create for her wedding night. The image was dated 1905. That year became my departure point, my anchor.

"From there, I spent many hours in the library poring over images of Old New York and the Panama Canal Zone, and newspapers from 1905. The newspaper advertisements and classified pages turned out to be the most valuable source of information. My goal wasn't to become an expert, but rather to familiarize myself with the social and cultural aspects of the period to the point where I felt comfortable enough to abandon the research for the world of the play."

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Nottage has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2007 MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant." Her other plays include "A Walk Through Time"; Mud, River, Stone" (a Blackburn Prize finalist); "Por'knockers"; "Poof!" (winner of the Heideman Award); "Las Meninas"; "Crumbs from the Table of Joy (winner of two NAACP Theatre Awards); and "Ruined."

Artistic contributors to the University Theatres Mainstage production include scenic designer Scott Schoonover, costume designer Jeanette Lee Porter, lighting designer Courtney Watson, dramaturg Brett Janecek, composers Dan Roeder and Kevin B.F. Burt, sound designers Andrew Stewart and Brandin Versteegh, and choreographers Angie Hayes and Judith Moessner.

Tickets for "Intimate Apparel" are $17 ($12 for senior citizens and $8 for UI students and youth). Tickets can be ordered in advance online at Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before showtime at the Theatre Building box office.

The Hancher box office is open for phone or walk-up business in Suite 107 in the south building of the Lindquist Center, at the corner of Madison and Burlington Streets, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. Parking is available in the metered lot by the UI Main Library on Madison Street, or in the Old Capitol Town Center parking ramp at the corner of Clinton and Burlington Streets.

From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at

For UI arts information and calendar updates visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.


STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Tisch Jones, Director,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell), 319-338-4274 (home)