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BWW Review: SWEAT at The Alley Theatre


Now on stage at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas

BWW Review: SWEAT at The Alley Theatre

The plight of the blue-collar workers in Reading, Pennsylvania reflects the tensions facing many working Americans. For some people, it's easier to blame those close by than the real causes of their pain. For many Americans people of color become the fall guys that excuse the greed of the rich and powerful. A detail that sticks out to me from Lynn Nottage's Sweat is how much time blue-collar characters spend blaming a black woman for her moderate gains, while barely any blame gets thrown at the CEO of the company ripping them off. If you can't hurt the people in charge, then you might go after someone you can.

Sweat is a play about the effect of declining American industry on a poor town that keeps getting poorer. It's also about how people react when the pressure builds. It has its themes, but this production carries a lot more baggage with it.

It's been eighteen months since the opening night of The Alley Theatre's production of 1984. The night was full of nervous energy as nobody knew whether it would be the only performance. It turns out it was.

The opening of the Alley's 75th carries with it a year and a half of fear and questions. Can the theatre survive under the same modes of operation? Can it grow and change? Can it be more inclusive?

Before the performance began, the Alley played a thirty-second sound clip of many voices speaking different languages. The clip ended with Rob Melrose (Artistic Director) declaring the Alley to be a place where all are welcome. The intent was clear, the Alley wants to be seen as a leader of theatre Diversity/">Diversity. A place where people of all origins can create art and see themselves represented onstage. It will be very important to see how they follow through.

I'm happy to say the performance itself was solid. There were some inconsistent accents and the stage fights were definitely stage fights. However, the storytelling is the most important thing and it came through very well.

The standouts were Derrick J. Brent II (Chris), Luis Quintero (Oscar), and Michelle Elaine (Cynthia) whose characters become the center of the thematic framework of the piece. Michelle Elaine delivers a monologue justifying her life choices that made me believe in her painful history. It's one of those beautiful moments of authenticity that you can only capture onstage.

I want to give a special mention to the costume design by Erica Griese that had to switch characters between two time periods very quickly. I especially appreciated the subtle changes to a character's weight that I noticed before it was brought up in the dialogue.

Ultimately it's hard to talk about the production and not everything surrounding it. In many ways, the American theatre is under review. We're all looking for the right ways to make theatre more diverse, more accessible, and most importantly more affordable to people of all income levels. Sweat, above all else, tries to teach its audience about empathy. I hope the theatre takes notes.

How To Get Tickets

SWEAT is on stage through October 24th. For tickets visit

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From This Author Christian Gill