A Black woman in early 1900s lingerie strikes a pose in front of a Black woman in a white dress, who is seated in a room with a chaise lounge, work table, and a mannequin
Rashada Dawan and Mildred Marie Langford in Intimate Apparel at Northlight Theatre Credit: Liz Lauren

In Tasia A. Jones’s impeccable production, Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel is as beautiful as the title garments, and its characters as fragile. Set in 1905, the play follows the efforts of seamstress Esther (the perfect Mildred Marie Langford) to reconcile her desire for love and marriage with her ambition to open her own business. Whether she’s communing over fine fabric with the Orthodox dry-goods salesman (Sean Fortunato, adorable as always) or persuading herself to marry the laborer she knows only by his letters, Esther is true north in the play—pure, serious, realistic with one terrible exception—as costume designer Raquel Adorno emphasizes by dressing her in white.

Intimate Apparel Through 5/15: Wed 1 and 7:30 PM, Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2:30 and 8 PM, Sun 2:30 PM; also Tue 5/3, 7:30 PM and Sun 5/15, 7 PM; Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300, northlight.org, $30-$89 ($15 students, pending availability).

By contrast, everyone around her is compromised: the landlady whose own marriage was purely for financial gain; the wealthy white woman whose friendship with Esther barely masks her desire to compensate for a neglectful husband; the prostitute who is her friend until a man comes between them; and most of all her stranger-husband who turns out to be thoughtless to the point of abuse. With a nod to A Raisin in the Sun, the husband makes sure to ruin Esther before he disappears, leaving her with no choice but to start over. Her doing so is inspiring but heartbreaking: there was no chance she’d end up with the dry-goods man, but when Langford and Fortunato gaze at each other over silk and cashmere, it’s amazing the set doesn’t catch on fire. A treat for the romantic as well as for the student of the ways race and creed keep kindred souls apart.