Review: SWEAT at Santa Fe Playhouse

A Commentary for Our Time

By: May. 16, 2023
Review: SWEAT at Santa Fe Playhouse

Celebrating its 101st year in existence, Santa Fe Playhouse presents another powerhouse production - Sweat by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage.

Centered on a group of working class people living outside of Reading, Pennsylvania, Sweat interweaves stories focusing on a group of friends and family who have spent their lives sharing stories, cocktails and confessions while working together in a union factory. When NAFTA, paycuts, layoffs and strikes begin to chip away at their well-being and livelihood, they find themselves in conflict with one another in a fight to stay gainfully employed and survive.

Playwright Nottage traces the origins of Sweat to the early years of the 21st century, when the economy stagnated and poverty was coming back to the forefront for many Americans. She wanted to show how the exploitation of the American worker was causing the decline of the quality of life of working-class citizens and causing a larger divide between the Haves and Have-nots. Even though the story takes place in Pennsylvania, its message is felt throughout huge swaths of this country.

The main plot is told in flashback, held together with video showing the day's headlines from 2000 to 2008 to orient the audience to the time period. At the center is a conflict that caused two of the main characters, Jason (Danny Martha) and Chris (Joshua Caleb Horton) to become incarcerated. During their time away, their hometown has become decimated by unemployment, drugs, alcoholism and depression. The action flips between the events of 2000 and Jason and Chris in conversation with their parole officer.

In flashback, we see the relationship between three women, Tracey, Cynthia and Jessie, all workers on the factory floor. The action takes place in their local bar, where they retire each night to blow off steam. Cynthia (Danielle Louise Reddick) bemoans her splintered relationship with husband Brucie (James J. Johnson), an addict who is usually scamming for a handout from her or their son Chris. Her friend Tracey is the most pessimistic about the future of the factory and seems to see the writing on the wall as other union shops around them fall to picket lines and paycuts. Her anger is directed at "outsiders" coming to take jobs away from "real Americans." Bartender Stan (Scott Harrison) is referee, sympathetic ear and comic relief all in one. Jessie (Karen Gruber Ryan) is usually face down on the bar early in the evening, as if in denial of the coming storm.

When the women hear of an opening in management, both Tracey and Cynthia decide to apply, mainly to see if they will really accept a worker into the elite air conditioned echelon of management. Cynthia gets the job and the troubles and conflict begin to grow. Much of the anger Tracey feels is projected on Oscar (Juan-Andres Apodaca), a young barback of Hispano descent (born and raised in the same town, but an outsider to the white workers nonetheless). She also feels that Cynthia only got the job because she is Black, giving Tracey one more excuse for why life has done her wrong.

The action comes to a head when things at the factory go south and rage takes over. The intense and well-staged climax of the play (kudos to fight director Ambrose Ferber) leads to the tragic and heartbreaking end that puts Jason and Chris in jail.

Director Robyn Rikoon had a stellar cast to work with, comprised of a mix of Santa Feans and new-to-New Mexico talent; Sweat is a very dialogue-driven piece, and could go off the rails in the wrong hands. This ensemble is incredibly tuned into each other and to their characters, making for a gripping and intense two and a half hours.

I have said it before and will do so again; Santa Fe Playhouse is consistently topping itself with each new production. The house is full and the audiences are getting all bang for their buck. Sweat's acting talent, combined with a beautifully constructed set, excellent lighting and sound design make this another must-see production for this company.

Sweat runs May 11 through June 10 and tickets can be purchased at

Don't wait to get your tickets, and see this moving masterpiece of modern theater.


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From This Author - Jackie Camborde

Jackie Camborde, Santa Fe, NM: Jackie has spent the majority of her career in the arts, mostly in fundraising and marketing. She is Director of Development for El Rancho de las Golondrinas, New Mexico... Jackie Camborde">(read more about this author)


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