Nottage's Play Before The Pulitzer: ‘Intimate Apparel’ at Bay Street

Julie Motyka and Kelly McCreary in "Intimate Apparel" Lenny Stucker

“Intimate Apparel,” a play by Lynn Nottage that opens Saturday at Bay Street Theater, with preview performances tonight and tomorrow, takes audiences back in time to 1905 New York, where Esther Mills, an African-American seamstress, has a successful business making lingerie for ladies of all classes. 

Ms. Nottage was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, for her plays “Ruined” and “Sweat.” 

Based on the life of her grandmother, “Intimate Apparel” debuted 14 years ago at Center Stage in Baltimore and went on to win the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play and the American Theatre Critics Association’s Francesca Primus Award for best play. Scott Schwartz, the Bay Street Theater artistic director, who is known for his direction on and off-Broadway, directs the production.

“One of things I feel strongly about doing at Bay Street is showing works by major American writers before they wrote the ‘big one,’ ” Mr. Schwartz said recently. “The smaller plays ebb away, get lost because the next thing is always coming.”

The show follows Esther as she navigates life and romances with a series of complex characters. George, a Caribbean laborer who works on the Panama Canal, trades poetic letters with Esther that become increasingly passionate, even though the two have never met in real life. Mr. Marks, a Hasidic shopkeeper, sells Esther fabrics and shares with her an appreciation for the beauty of silks. Esther and Mr. Marks’s blossoming relationship is impossible because of the limitations placed by society in the turn-of-the-century, even if Esther’s heart longs to be with him, and his with her.

Kelly McCreary, who stars on “Grey’s Anatomy” as Dr. Maggie Pierce, will play Esther. Ms. McCreary appeared in “Scandal,” “Castle,” “Emily Owens M.D.,” “I Just Want My Pants Back,” and “White Collar,” among television shows. Her stage credits include the Broadway production of “Passing Strange.”

The cast also includes Edward O’Blenis (“Uncle Vanya,” “Tall Grass”) as George, and Blake DeLong (“Othello,” “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”) as Mr. Marks. Esther’s friends, each with her own struggles and worries, are played by Portia (“Ruined,” “McReele,” “Our Lady of 121st Street”), Julia Motyka (Bay Street’s “Travesties”), and Shayna Small (“The Colored Museum”) as Mrs. Dickson, Mrs. Van Buren, and Mayme, respectively.

“Intimate Apparel” will run until July 30. Tickets range from $30 to $125, with special deals for theatergoers under 20 and free student matinees. All ticket deals must be purchased at the box office. Regular tickets are available online or by phone.