SIZZLING ‘SWEAT’ FEATURES POWERFUL CORE PERFORMANCES
“Sweat,” the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Lynn Nottage that opened Monday in a crisply directed Ron OJ Parson Chicago premiere production at Goodman Theatre, is set in Reading, Pennsylvania, a steel mill town in the midst of the cyclical industrial turmoil that threatens blue-collar families in communities across America.
The action occurs at pivot points in 2000 and 2008, bookends that allow for the dramatic elements of the storyline to evolve in vignettes that initially include parole officer Evan (Ronald L. Conner) in meetings with Jason (Mike Cherry) and Chris (Edgar Miguel Sanchez) who have recently been released from prison.
The livelihood of every character in Nottage’s compelling story is tied to the prosperity of the Olstead steel tubing plant. In the opening scene set eight years earlier at a local bar managed by Stan (Keith Kupferer), three women who have worked together on the factory floor since high school–Chris’s mother, Cynthia (Tyla Abercrumbie) who is African-American, Jason’s mother, Tracey (Kirsten Fitzgerald), and their over-served wingman Jessie (Chaon Cross)–are celebrating Tracey’s birthday. Stan’s Colombian employee Oscar (Steve Casillas) is present, as well as Cynthia’s ex-husband, Brucie (André Teamer), whose life and familial relationships have spiraled out of control since he lost his job.
A supervisor opening at the mill has everyone talking. Cynthia views the promotion as a chance to finally leave the floor and applies. However, when she gets the job, the friction riles her relationship with Tracey and Jessie, who know that a change in their work association will be fatal to the friendship. It all starts to unravel when a notice is distributed in Spanish; lines are drawn and tempers begin to flare.
The sizzling emotional interaction of Abercrumbie and Fitzgerald–alternating between sisterhood and disdain for one another–provide the show’s powerful core performances. Kupferer is terrific in the role of the former mill worker whose career was cut short due to injury. The entertaining Cross spends most of the evening delightfully inebriated, while the friendships between the women is mirrored in the fine portrayals of the sons by Cherry and Sanchez, who, with Casillas, raise the dramatic tension of the piece to a fever pitch.
The creative design team–Kevin Depinet (set), Mara Blumenfeld (costumes), Keith Parham (lighting) and Richard Woodbury (sound)–have created a stunner for this production that evokes the pre-911 post-market collapse span of the era as a defining moment for generations of factory workers whose lives and world view have been irreparably altered. Nottage’s profoundly insightful work reminds us of the collateral damage that hateful dialogue and pent-up rage can inflict on others–a stark and valuable lesson for our time.
through April 14th
170 NORTH DEARBORN
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