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LaVon Hardison is a gem

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Last weekend was interesting in the world of theater as the Northwest Festival of Plays came to a close and deepened a lot of interest in local theater talent with a roster of thoughtful, funny, clever, and touching shows. Kudos go out to all involved for their tireless work that went into pulling off such a logistical undertaking. I heard many good comments from the crowds and saw quite a few folks attending shows each night. What was perhaps most surprising was the cross section of folks. There were, of course, the college coeds and students from Tacoma School of the Arts all dressed in their black jeans and Misfits T-shirts, but there also were seemingly normal folks just out for a little something different than what the regular theater houses were offering.

I guess it just goes to show that people will try something different when they are given the chance. Anyway, that was last weekend. This is a column about looking forward, and there is some good theater to be found around the South Sound this weekend.

At the top of the list is Harlequin Productions' version of Intimate Apparel. Don't get all hot and bothered; it isn't the sort of show the title implies.

The play tells the story of Esther, who is a black seamstress in New York City shortly after the turn of the last century.  This is a semi-true story of playwright Lynn Nottage's great-grandmother, who made her living making corsets. Being the times they are and race relations being what they are, Esther's employment options are few, so she finds work making undergarments for the social elite as well as the rentable lot in the darker sides of town. She makes whatever they want as long as their money is good.

Pennies are saved, and a nest egg grows. Esther finds a romantic connection with a distant laborer working on the Panama Canal when they exchange letters to pass the time.

LaVon Hardison is a gem in the role. She is strong and tender without being duplicitous. Most folks will remember her from her stint in the theater's Stardust series that is a family tradition in this house. She has the sort of stage presence that forces audiences to have their eyes on her for the nuanced acting she does. Her portrayal is complete. The whole show, in fact, sort of pulls audiences in so completely that it seems at times that the action is happening for real and the audience has just stumbled onto this unfolding story.

[State Theater, through March 22, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, $24-$33, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.0151,]

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