BWW Review: SWEAT at Asolo Repertory Theatre
American playwright Lynn Nottage, whose works poignantly portray the lives of demoralized individuals, was the first woman to capture the male-dominated Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009 for Ruined, and again in 2017 for Sweat. It is one of the most produced plays in America.
In Sweat we are taken back to the year 2000 and 2008 following the election of George W. Bush during the global upheaval termed "The Great Recession". With excessive risks taken by banks, massive corporate bailouts, and plunging real estate and stock values, it was thought to have been the worst financial crisis since the 1930's Great Depression. People lost their jobs, pensions, retirement, homes, hope and worst of all, the ability to take care of themselves and provide for their families. Suicides were up, buying was down, and it had a devastating global impact.
As news reel clips from the time period flash on the wall at the back of the stage, we step into the world of factory workers who magnify this tragedy with characters many of us either knew or were during those times. The focus is around three women in the steel town of Reading, Pennsylvania. This hits very close to home for me. My father, brothers and several uncles worked at Crucible Steel in Midland, Pennsylvania. I know all too well the closeness of a tight knit community and how families and friendships can be torn apart during a national crisis that can so deeply cut into the fiber of small town America. Bringing these characters to life sets the stage for a page out of history exemplifying how local folks gathered at neighborhood bars and restaurants after work to talk shop and dream of a bright future.
Tracy (Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann), Cynthia (Danielle Lee Greaves), and Jessie (Liz Zweifler) are three close friends working at a factory where co-workers are a racial mix of black, white and Latino. They were making good pay with good benefits. As union members they felt safeguarded. Friendships crossed color lines, as the commonality everyone shared was the workplace. For twenty years they met regularly at the local bar and celebrated birthdays and personal triumphs together. But things are about to change.
Due to tough times, the factory tries to shut out the union. Cynthia applies for and receives a promotion to management that drives a wedge between the long-term friendships the women cherished. Spiteful attitudes form and a cog in the wheel of this friendship causes envy and resentment to surface when the factory asks employees to take a pay and benefits cut or else. Cynthia could be fired for telling her friends prior to the official corporate announcement. Out of loyalty to her friends she explains what is coming and advises them to take the cuts to avoid losing their jobs. This further widens the separation that made these women inseparable because now Cynthia represents management - the enemy. To make matters worse Tracy and Cynthia's sons, Jason (Matthew Kresch) and Chris (Kevin Minor) are serving jail-time. Now their favorite hang out becomes a battlefield of emotions and prejudice. Even retired factory worker, turned bartender at the bar, Stan (Matt DeCaro) can not offer a free drink or extended tab due to the new rules set by the pub owner. And when Cynthia's alcoholic ex enters the scene even more tension and aggression rises to a boiling point. I won't go into detail. I like to provide just enough information to pique my reader's interest so they can enjoy the full details in person. Suffice it to say tensions elevate and some very dramatic things happen that will change everyone forever.
Carolyn, Danielle and Liz sunk their teeth into their characters and performed with authenticity. Each had a strong character to interpret and they delivered with dimension and passion. Matt DeCaro as Stan the bartender played his part as a caring friend and sounding board for the ladies. He gave his character warmth and charm. Rudy Galvan believably played Stan's bar keep, Oscar, who was alone in the world, tried to keep his head down, avoid trouble, and do what he had to do to make a way for himself. Matthew Kresch as Jason formed a character of rough edges, with no plans after prison. He just allowed life to unfold day by day. He reminded me of a pacing lion ready to pounce. Kevin Minor as Chris, on the other hand, played a young man happy to be out of jail and ready to make a new life for himself. That included higher education and maybe investing in a franchise. Gabriel Lawrence played Evan, the boy's parole officer with a cordial yet firm hand. Bruce A. Young as Brucie, had the drunken thick tongue and wobbly swagger down. He was abrasive and pitiful and made you care for his character. He evoked the torment he was feeling from drugs and alcohol and resentful for the pain he was causing Cynthia and their son Chris. Although I would like to have seen this presented at a faster pace, Director Nicole A. Watson gave her cast the opportunity to explore and capture the dimensions of their characters that displayed the impact this story had on their individual lives.