Lynne Nottage's lyrical drama tells the tale of the naive-but-indomitable black seamstress, Esther (Vanessa Williams), in 1905 New York. Esther makes her living creating fine lingerie, and she's worked 18 years to save enough money to launch her dream -- a beauty salon for black women. She's accepted the fact that love and marriage are not in her future -- though there's a strong attraction between her and the Hasidic fabric dealer, Mr. Marks (Adam J. Smith). Then she receives a series of affectionate letters from George (David St. Louis), a handsome young Caribbean man who's working on the Panama Canal. Since Esther can't read or write, she relies on her customers, the prostitute Mayme (Kristy Johnson), and the wealthy-but-dissatisfied white woman, Mrs. Van Buren (Angel Reda), to read the letters and write her replies. When George proposes marriage, despite the warnings of her practical, cynical landlady (Dawnn Lewis), and the fact that she's never seen him, she accepts, with disastrous results. Director Sheldon Epps leads a fine cast in a deft, subtly calibrated production, and Williams makes a gallant, vulnerable figure of Esther. John Iacovelli's diaphanous, fabric-dominated set and Leah Piehl's lacy costumes echo the lingerie motif. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 2. (626) 356-7529, PasadenaPlayhouse.org.
Sun., Nov. 11, 5 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 11. Continues through Dec. 2, 2012