The Real-Life Drama Of Sweat
Captivating play is reflective of how the economy has affected the lives of so many American workers
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Mike Cherry (Jason), André Teamer (Brucie) and Edgar Miguel Sanchez (Chris) (above), and (below) Keith Kupferer (Stan), Tyla Abercrumbie and Kirsten Fitzgerald (Tracey).
Friendships quickly turn to confrontation in the midst of the job insecurity that affects townspeople in the Goodman Theatre's production of Sweat.
THERE is such an undeniable sense of realism––a sense of right now––associated with Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat that it’s a real eye-opener when it comes to the real-life drama involving American workers, a sometimes unpredictable economy and the life-changing upheaval that often results.
Nottage, in her return to the Goodman, takes the situation head-on, revealing that adversity and self-preservation can strain even the strongest relationships and friendships. In a Pennsylvania town where its foundation is its factories, the downturn in the economy has delivered a harsh blow as more and more factories close, and there are rumors of more to leave. All the while, the frightened but dedicated workers feel the possibility of unemployment getting closer as they suffer the anguish of uncertainty––and all that comes with it.
In this case, it’s the years of trust and love that this group of factory workers has enjoyed over the years that begin to unravel with either the closure of factories near them or significant layoffs at others. As the job picture dwindles, the temperatures rise and longtime friends are pitted against one another in a fight for economic survival, one in which class, race and gender can’t be denied.
The setting is a spacious, Reading, Pa., bar that’s frequented by the workers who are comfortable in sharing with each other all a day at the plant had to offer. The bartender Stan (Keith Kupferer) understands their plight better than most because he spent 28 years on the factory floor before a disabling injury left him with a pronounced limp. Now, the workers look to him for updates about what’s happening at plants throughout the community.
Scenic designer Kevin Depinet created the perfect area for the daily after-hours get-togethers in a realistic set that’s inviting and spacious enough for dancing, and it also allowed the actors’ unencumbered movements suggested by popular and in-demand director Ron OJ Parson, who returned to the Goodman as a director after a 20-year absence.
Sweat is engaging on several levels, but the strength of the play is its actors, a strong and multitalented group that makes theatergoers feel their pain, frustration, anger and fear. Cynthia (Tyla Abercrumbie), Tracey (Kirsten Fitzgerald) and Jessie (Chaon Cross) are co-workers and the best of friends who never miss the opportunity to celebrate each other’s birthdays at the bar. Cynthia and Tracey have worked at the plant long enough to see their sons Chris (Edgar Miguel Sanchez) and Jason (Mike Cherry) join them on the factory floor.
In the midst of the tension that arises when Cynthia seeks a promotion as a warehouse supervisor, the ambitious but conflicted survivor who struggles to cope with the difficulties in her life also has to deal with her drugged-out and estranged husband Brucie (André Teamer), who took a downward spiral after he was locked out of his plant. The cast is rounded out by Evan (Ronald L. Conner), a parole officer, and Oscar (Steve Casillas), a Colombian American bar assistant, who is seeking to improve his life.
In Sweat, running through April 14 and focusing on the years between 2000-2008, Nottage presents a not-so-pleasant look at an American situation that has long-reaching effects on a segment of the community that has few choices for economic survival. For years, the workers in this industrial town have demonstrated their loyalty as dedicated factory workers, but they got slapped in the face with the heartless union-busting tactics that also busted families and friendships. Again, as has become too routine, workers are left with the choices of accepting pay cuts, longer hours and the elimination of benefits or witnessing the companies moving to Mexico or some other area where cheaper labor and production costs are all that matter.
Perhaps Cynthia understood this better than most and grudgingly accepted the reality of that distressing fact. Despite the generations of one-sided loyalty to the plants, she matter-of-factly laid out the unadulterated truth to her friends and co-workers, saying: “One day life is good, and the next you’re treading water.”
For more information and tickets, go to www.goodmantheatre.org. Groups of 10+ can save up to 25 percent on select performances. Student groups save up to 50 percent on select performances. Email email@example.com for more information.
Photography by Liz Lauren