‘SWEAT’ CHALLENGES THE AMERICAN DREAM
LYNN NOTTAGE'S PLAY IS A POWERFUL TESTAMENT TO THE AMERICAN WORKER, FAMILY, TRUST AND THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING TO EACH OTHER
Review by Vince Mediaa and Xun Zhang
The Margret Lesher stage and The CenterRep has been transformed into a working pub for the workers of a waning steel factory. Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play SWEAT is now on stage at CenterRep in Walnut Creek through April 16th. SWEAT takes place in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2000, with some scenes taking place in 2008. Nottage based the play on the real city of Reading, where in 2011, saw its poverty rate rise to 41%, earning it “the largest share of its residents living in poverty”. As local plant workers faced closings and layoffs. After interviewing residents of Reading, Nottage set out to capture the essence of those workers surviving the plant closures and layoffs.
Tracey (Lisa Anne Porter), Cynthia (Cathleen Riddley) and their friend Jessie (Maryssa Wanlass) regularly grab a drink after a long day on the floor of their factory jobs. A discussion starts to grow in the group after Cynthia is given a promotion to management, unheard of for someone working on the floor. The company begins pressuring the floor workers to make concessions in their pay and benefits, leading to a strike and lockout. Caught in the middle is Cynthia, who was simply looking to better her own situation and wound up caught between her friends and her son Chris, (Eddie Ewell) who also works on the floor.
The workers meet at a local bar in town, Olstead Steel Roller, warmly designed by scenic designer Kelly James Tighe, with red topped stools and a working tap, a long bar with tables scattered by prop master Alyssa Tryon. Director Elizabeth Carter ability to capture the tension between these characters is authentic. In one moment Jessie is having a nice conversation with her newly promoted friend, thinking she has an ally in management to get presumably simple things for her fellow floor workers like air conditioning. While Cynthia brags about being in an office with air conditioning. The play explores a story about not listening to each other, or not having voices for a united front. The workers are pitted against each other, not listening for long enough to realize they’re being manipulated.
Costume designer Becky Bodurtha puts Cynthia and Chris a green plaid while Tracey’s son Jason and Jessie are in blue earth tones. The design creates a war zone tone as the passion gets heated in the second act. Lighting designer Kevin E Myrick brings a rich darkness and reality to the bar setting and the action down stage. His projections to identify the year each scene takes place are vintage. Cliff Caruthers sound designer brings the audience to their seats with some classic rock and news radio clips as each scene changes. Stage manager Penny Pendleton worked well with the nine member cast and Dave Maier fight director choreographed the second act fights with near perfect punches.
The cast is solid and passionate - Lisa Ann Porter, Catheen Riddley and Eddie Ewell highlight the drama and ark of the play. Michael Asberry, Roman Anthony Gonzalez, Adam KuveNiemann, Robert Parsons and Maryssa Wanlass fill out the cast with marvelous performances. Nottage’s play brings intelligent flawed characters reconstructing the American dream. Carter’s direction provides the needed humor to highlight the story. SWEAT is about struggle, family, love and workers who built this nation. Next up at Center Rep is IN THE HEIGHTS that opens May 27th. But in the meantime SWEAT is a “must see” with a splendid cast.
CENTER REPERTORY COMPANY PRESENTS
SWEAT By Lynn Nottage Directed by Elizabeth Carter
Must Close April 16, 2023
Running time 3 hours with one intermission
Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Tickets: $34-$56; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org
Photos by Kevin Berne