'SWEAT’ BRINGS ECONOMICS AND RACE IN AMERICA TO STAGE WITH AN ENGAGING CAST AND LYNN NOTTAGE’S
TONY HONORED PLAY
This is not the bar from “Cheers” even though the detailed set brings that memory up front. SWEAT a new play now at American Conservatory Theatre through October 21, takes us to a no name bar in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2008. Written by Lynn Nottage, SWEAT a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning drama takes us to this bar and all the regulars that used to work or currently work in the area. Blue collar jobs are shrinking in the working town and the workers reveal many stories left behind. This play answers the call for more gritty American playwriting. SWEAT had its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, and opened on Broadway in 2017 to positive reviews and honors.
Playwright Lynn Nottage interviewed many out of work communities in Pennsylvania; “They’re all telling stories about people who are marginalized" says Nottage. She continues "People who are struggling with identities have been erased. They’re about working people who feel incredibly marginalized and unseen, and about how they can assert themselves in a landscape that refuses to recognize their dignity.” Nottage grew up in a blue collar home “My mom was a schoolteacher, my dad was a social worker, and I’m a worker myself, no one understands insecurity more than artists; we are always right there on the edge of insolvency.”
The Reading bar includes an excellent cast, a proud industrial group directed by Loretta Greco. The story begins with a parole officer Evan played by Adrian Roberts and two millennial men fresh from prison. Jason is played by the gruff David Darrow, who has a black eye and supremacist tattoos with a temper that could take him back to jail. Chris played by the Kadeem Ali Harris is a kind black American who has turned to Christianity for his strength. They both remember their old buddy who upended his life eight years ago. The factory workers are in the era of NAFTA and Bush; and drastic issues are about to change all their lives.
The workers are facing layoffs due to factories in Mexico where labor is cheap and unions are not an issue. Stan, the bartender, played by the able Rod Gnapp, was injured at the factory. Stan has built a trust with his customers based on his days on the line. Tracey, played by the bold Lise Bruneau, has worked in Reading with her family for years. The women include Cynthia who is the mother of Chris. These survivors share a hard bond of “sweat” watching their sons and family for 20 years grow with them at the plant.
There is anger and drama with the characters as the blame game pits friend against friend as affirmative action and immigration are on the table. One of the targets of Tracey is Oscar the barback, played by the impressive Jed Parsario, who only wants a better paying factory job and is willing to work for less than union wages. His story becomes more focused in the second act of this two hour and thirty minute powerful story of real people.
Directed with a humanizing narrative edge by Greco, she makes it a privilege to meet these regulars in this factory bar. Set designer Andrew Boyce’s detailed bar and spacious set gives these workers a community hangout feeling; he makes it a character in Nottage’s play. The most stunning aspect of the design is the detail and how the opening night audience felt at home even with such dark stories. Lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes brings a moody industrial look to the setting and matches the power of Hana S Kims gritty street projections of Reading. Sound Designer Jake Rodriguez rings the sound of the beer and drinks and vocal coach Christine Aaire kept the accents of the company authentic. The costumes designed by Ulises Alcala tell the subtext of each actor with rich brown and green tones, rolled up sleeves and earthy boots and shoes on both the women and men. The production team was keen in creating the difficulty to separate economics and race in labor and America
Nottage brings a human tale to this discussion that has become more intense since the Trump era. SWEAT is a dramatic collective of stories and rings with thought and passion. When emotions boil near the end, the drama is chilling. The audience is moved and the talk and drama rolls to your seat. The acting is solid and the strength of the cast is diverse and poetic with Nottage’s script. ‘SWEAT a tragedy can be healing, compassionate, and heartbreaking, but will leave you thinking and even wanting more. Nottage says “I want audiences to go off to some bar and converse about the issues raised.” Next up at the American Conservatory Theatre is Jaclyn Backhaus’ gender bender MEN ON BOATS that opens October 17th, and 2019 will bring the slam dunk crowd pleaser THE GREAT LEAP. But in the meantime join the discussion at the impressive SWEAT to open your fall season at this bar on Geary Street.
American Conservatory Theatre Presents
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Loretta Greco
Closes Oct 21, 2018
ACT Geary Theatre
405 Geary Street, San Francisco.
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes
including one intermission.
Tickets are available online at http://www.act-sf.org/
Call the box office 415-749-2228.
Photos by Kevin Berne
CAST: Lise Bruneau as Tracey, David Darrow as Jason, Rod Gnapp as Stan, Kadeem Ali Harris as Chris, Sarah Nina Hayon as Jessie, Chike Johnson as Brucie, Jed Parsario as Oscar, Tonye Patano as Cynthia, and Adrian Roberts as Evan.
CREATIVE TEAM: Lorretta Grecco (director); Andrew Boyce (Scenic Designer); Ulises Alcala (Costume Designer); Allen Lee Hughes (Lighting Designer); Jake Rodriguez (Sound Designer), and Hana Kim (Video Designer).
Lynn Cottage - talks about interviewing workers for her play
Lynn Cottage talks about her two Pulitzer Prize’s