Saturday, March 25, 2023
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Sweat - “torn from the headlines” episodic, often preachy docu-drama moves to Broadway

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage along with her longtime director Kate Whoriskey did extensive research in 2011 traveling to Reading Pennsylvania interviewing locals – especially factory workers - for what would become her newest “torn from the headlines” episodic, often preachy docu-drama SWEAT.

And it shows. Sometimes a bit too much especially in the back story monologues spoken by the characters on stage at Studio 54 in a production that has transferred from its sold out run at The Public Theater.

SWEAT deals with the “forgotten blue collar Americans” and their tragic plight which eventually was tapped into by Donald Trump resulting in his being elected President of these not so United States.

He promised them jobs. Keeping their jobs and creating new ones. And jobs are of the utmost importance to these citizens of Reading in the years 2000 and 2008 where the play jumps back and forth. Jobs and drugs and race and drinking to release some of the tensions brewing among its citizens both black and white.

Mostly taking place in a local bar (finely detailed by set designer John Lee Beatty) run by Stan (James Colby) who worked at the factory until an accident disabled him. A bar where everybody knows your name, your habits (good and bad), your favorite brew, your birthday, and who is supplying the drugs and using.

Unfortunately some are not paying too much attention to what is happening at the factory where they all work. Where generations of their families worked. Feeling secure with their jobs and salary and benefits. Until the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) threatens their very existence.

Cut backs loom. The Union offers a large reduction in wages. Picket lines divide them. The locals begin to take sides in the neutral territory of the bar after Cynthia (Michelle Wilson) applies for and gets a new position as manager. A position that her longtime friend Tracey (Johanna Day) would have liked to have gotten. Their sons are best friends. Jason, the hyper energetic Will Pullen and the more serious son of Cynthia Chris (Khris Davis) who has aspirations of going to college.

The third barfly is Jessie (Alison Wright) who is mostly out of it albeit amusing.

Then there is Brucie (John Earl Jelks) dad of Chris and sort of estranged husband of Cynthia – because of his drugs. And Oscar (Carlo Alban) a Columbian born in America who helps out at the bar and is one of the best characters in the production who is the catalyst for the climatic ending.

Starting in 2008 Evan (Lance Coadie Williams) a parole officer is interviewing both sons separately about an incident that will take you a while to put all the pieces of this tragic puzzle together – as we go back in time to the year 2000 to witness the destruction of the people of Reading and their livelihood.


Photo: Joan Marcus