Arts Club Theatre Company & Citadel Theatre
SWEAT by Lynn Nottage

Dates and Venue
October 18 – November 18, 2018; Tue – Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, Wed at 1:30pm and Sat & Sun at 2pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Valerie Planche Sound Designer Mishelle Cuttler Costume Designer Jenifer Darbellay Lighting Design Daniela Masellis Set Design Shizuka Kai Stage Manager Rick Rinder

Reviewer John Jane

Over the last couple of decades, Reading, Pennsylvania has become a place where the so-called American dream goes to die. Lynn Nottage’s gritty, non-linear blue collar drama Sweat is set primarily in 2000 in a city that has been left behind by globalization, leaving its denizens among the country’s poorest. Nottage’s fictional characters are the anonymous victims of globalization, who likely once considered themselves to be middle class. But, like most of us, they have had to learn that if your economic status relies on your union, your employer, or your elected representatives – you are not really middle class. When the system fails them, instead of moving on, which might also mean moving elsewhere, they get hostile, blaming others for stealing their jobs. Even though, their jobs were hardly worth stealing.

The play actually begins at the end of the story as a scene is played out with separate interviews between a parole officer and two young men, Chris (Andrew Creightney) and Jason (Chris W. Cook) having just been released from prison. Without the reason for their incarceration being specified, the action abruptly switches from the Fall of 2008 to the other end of George W. Bush’s presidency (these historical bookends are significant to the narrative).

Shizuka Kai’s relevantly designed and well constructed set of a local watering hole is where the predominant part of play is enacted. The bar is tended by the good-natured Stan (Ashley Wright) – the play’s most sympathetic character. He is called upon to act as confidant, advocate and peacekeeper when needed. For Cynthia (Marci T. House), Tracey (Nicole St. Martin) and Jessie (Lora Brovold), who all work at the local manufacturing plant together, it’s kind of a second home where they celebrate each other’s birthdays and anything else. When Cynthia gets a promotion to management and the company embarks on union-busting tactics, the friendship turns toxic.

Despite an absence of any definitive dramatic arc, director Valerie Planche maintains the play’s core concept of disenfranchisement. While much of the narrative involves the three women, Sweat is very much an ensemble piece. Alen Dominguez as the bar’s diffident busboy Oscar and Anthony Santiago as Cynthia’s wayward husband Brucie provide substantial support.

In Lynn Nottage’s forceful, though somewhat mis-titled play, she has given theatre-going audiences a lot to think about in terms of social dynamics. Everybody should see this play and be grateful that it’s (hopefully) not about them.

© 2018 John Jane