Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Intimate Apparel

Go To

Don’t let no man have a part of your heart without you getting a piece of his.
—Mrs. Dickson

A 2003 play by Lynn Nottage. The two-act play is set in New York in 1905 and follows Esther, a 35-year-old black seamstress who specializes in creating unmentionables for clients ranging from the wealthy Mrs. Van Buren to the prostitute Mayme, in her pursuit of her dreams and possibly an escape from spinsterhood.


This play contains examples of:

  • Against My Religion: Accidental physical contact with Esther would be this for Mr. Marks.
  • Arranged Marriage: Mr. Marks was supposed to be in one of these. Esther doesn't understand the custom, which is ironic because her own marriage will be to a man she's never met who only wants to marry her for her money.
  • The Beard: Considering Mrs. Van Buren's comments about her husband losing interest in sex, they may be acting as this for each other without knowing it. Their lack of success in conceiving a child when they do have sex may be making both members of the couple particularly anxious about maintaining this trope.
  • Beautiful All Along: When George tells her she isn't beautiful enough to be taken seriously as the owner of a beauty parlor, Esther tries to invoke this trope by putting on lipstick, stripping down to her corset, and striking a sexy pose on the bed. Subverted when George cruelly mocks her for this.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Mrs. Van Buren thinks she's giving Esther this.
  • Break the Cutie: Implied to have happened in Mayme's childhood, but she's still idealistic and a bit naive. Happens again when she learns that the married client she fell in love with is Esther's husband.
  • Costume Porn: It is a play about apparel, after all. Esther's wedding gown, George's smoking jacket, and every corset would count as this in a well-financed production of the play.
  • Country Mouse / Fish out of Water: George claims that his background as a laborer working on the Panama Canal makes him unable to adjust to life in New York City. Instead of searching for a factory job, he takes all of Esther's money under the pretense that he's going to purchase several draft horses for his own business means. Turns out he adjusts just fine to city life—particularly to gambling and wooing prostitutes.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The embroidered smoking jacket Esther gives George as a wedding gift.
    • Also the money Esther keeps stashed in her quilt.
  • Crisis of Faith: Played for Laughs when Mayme is invited to a wedding in a church.
    Mayme: I ain’t got nothing to say to God. And it don’t seem right to go up into somebody’s home and you ain’t on speaking terms.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Both Esther and Mr. Marks react this way to high-quality fabrics.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Esther and George's doomed courtship by mail echoes modern fears about online dating.
  • Dramatic Irony: When Mayme shows Esther the gift her "Songbird" gave her. Esther hints that she made the jacket by discussing its craftsmanship, even showing that she knows where the artist left their signature on the fabric. When Mayme remains oblivious, Esther prods her to admit hatred for this married man's wife. Esther's objections lead Mayme to think Esther no longer respects her profession.
  • Fanservice: It's in almost every scene, if you believe Of Corsets Sexy. George's shirtless scene also counts.
  • Goal in Life: Esther's is to open a beauty parlor for colored women. Mayme used to dream of becoming a concert pianist, but she's not as serious about it.
  • Gold Digger: George is a Rare Male Example.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Mayme.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The scenes are named after descriptions of Esther's creations.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Mrs. Dickson shows Jerkass tendencies when she rips up one of George's letters, if not any other time. But in the end, she turns out to have been right all along that Esther shouldn't have trusted George before having met him in person.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Mrs. Van Buren, who feels socially expected to bear children, has "failed" to produce them with her husband. Esther desperately wants to start a family but needs a husband first. Meanwhile, Mayme lives in fear of becoming pregnant by one of her johns.
  • Lingerie Scene: Mrs. Van Buren and Mayme in all their appearances. Esther gets two brief ones in Act 2.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Mrs. Van Buren.
  • Love Before First Sight: George convinces Esther that this has happened between them in Act 1.
    • Foreshadowed when Mr. Marks discusses his Arranged Marriage with Esther. His fianceé is still in Hungary, but he doesn't miss her because he's never even met her.
  • Love Confession: George to Esther in the first act, insincerely. Mrs. Van Buren to Esther in the second act, insensitively.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Why Esther and Mr. Marks can't act on their feelings for each other.
  • Matzo Fever: Averted with Esther's attraction to Mr. Marks. He's chaste, loyal, sweet, and funny; however, they can never be together.
  • Meaningful Name: Esther. In the Book of Esther, which is part of the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament, she protected the Jews from a Persian king bent on genocide. The character is considered by modern scholars to be a post-feminist icon. The name also foreshadows Esther's UST with Mr. Marks, who is Jewish.
    • Mayme is a diminutive of the name Mary, shared by two significant Biblical women: Mary Magdalene, rumored to have been a repentant prostitute, and the Virgin Mary.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Esther by Mrs. Van Buren. Esther's indignant reaction to Mrs. Van Buren's kiss and subsequent Love Confession is less about this trope and more about the implausibility of even a socially acceptable platonic friendship between the two women.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Esther tells George he's more handsome than she expected him to be.
  • Not So Different: When Mr. Marks explains to Esther that his adherence to orthodox Hasidic customs is out of respect for the centuries of oppression faced by his people.
  • Of Corset Hurts: Mrs. Van Buren discusses the scandalous idea of women going without corsets. Mayme clings to the bedpost as Esther tight-laces her corset.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Mrs. Van Buren and Mayme buy Esther's corsetry creations for seduction purposes. Later, Esther herself strips down to her corset in a desperate attempt to arouse George.
  • The Piano Player: Mayme. An unusual example in that this character has a significant role in the play in her own right, but her self-composed melodies are too modern to make her an Elegant Classical Musician.
  • Playing Cyrano: Mrs. Van Buren and Mayme help the illiterate Esther respond to George's letters. George was also paying his coworkers to write his own letters.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Esther's interest in the seemingly chaste Christian laborer writing to her. Her interest in Mr. Marks may also count as this, although the characters believe they can never be together.
  • Socialite: Mrs. Van Buren.
  • Spinster: What Esther believes herself to be.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Esther and Mr. Marks. Made worse by his observance of traditional Jewish customs, including refusal to touch any woman not related or married to him.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: