Sweat is the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner in the category for drama. Written by the praised playwright Lynn Nottage, Sweat is now making its Orange County debut at The Chance Theater in a virtual staging.
Under the expert direction of Elina de Santos, Sweat is a mirror-reflection of life as a searing drama with bawdy humor and intense conflict; both the drama and the risqué humor are amply displayed among these co-working friends laboring together in a Reading, Pennsylvania factory during the first decade of the 21st century.
Though the plot line is about the displacement of employees in what the United States Census Bureau cited as one of the most impoverished communities in the U.S., the action unfolds primarily in a neighborhood bar. The staging opens with two young men being interviewed by their parole officer then shifts to the bar where three women, who have been friends throughout their upbringing in Reading and now have been long employed by the city’s major employer, all laboring on the factory floor.
In flashbacks and with historical markers, such as the 2000 presidential contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush, and the Great Recession of 2008, we also hear Stan, an erstwhile factory employee himself and now — due to a debilitating leg injury from his factory floor job — a bartender at the local “watering hole,” make the prescient pronouncement, “You could wake up tomorrow and all your jobs are in Mexico.”
Indeed, the relevancy of this story — from the importance of friendship, to the essentialism of a just economic system, to the cruelty inherent in a profit-based system of production that puts priority of the corporate bottom-line over the well-being of those who do the company’s labor — is at the heart of this poignant play.
With superbly embodied characterizations by nine fine actors — Cary J. Thompson as Bruce; Dalia Vosylius as Tracey; Darrin Hickok as Jason; Elijah Rashad Reed as Chris; Jozben Barrett as Evan; Marlene Galán as Jesse; Rey Pulice as Oscar; Scott Sheldon as Stan; and the singularly-named Estelle as Cynthia — it’s difficult not to suspend disbelief as the action unfolds.
Moreover, the designs — from the projections by Nick Santiago, to costumes by Adrianna Lambarri, to the lighting motif by Masako Tobaru, to the makeup art by Bebe Herrera, to the sound and fight coordination by Marc Antonio Pritchettt (and what a fight we see!) — Sweat is perhaps the most compelling and controversial stagings audiences in Southern California are likely to witness in this or any other season of theater.