THEATRE REVIEW OF LYNN NOTTAGE’S PLAY
Lynn Nottage’s Sweat is a powerful play thatexamines the tragic lives of factory workers in Reading, Pennsylvania as theiremployer shuts down the plant. She puts a magnifying glass on the fate of theline workers in a masterful play that won the Pulitzer Prize. Canadian Stageand Studio 180 have tackled it and have achieved an outstanding production.
The play takes place in a bar in a depressed town of Pennsylvania where thefriends meet. They are Tracey (Kelli Fox) and her son Jason (TimothyDowler-Coltman), Cynthia (Ordena Stephens–Thompson) and her son Chris(Christopher Allen), as well as Jessie (Allegra Fulton), a dedicated heavydrinker who never misses work. They meet at the bar that is managed by Stan(Ron Lea) who worked at the same plant for many years until he was injured onthe job. Oscar (Jhonattan Ardila), a Latino, works at the bar.
They are friends and have built their community and traditions in the townand in the bar. They have dreams and plans. A vacation, a car, a better job. Traceyand Jason are white. Cynthia and Chris are black. Cynthia’s husband Brucie(Peter N. Bailey) is a pathetic drug addict who was thrown out of his job whenhis union was locked out. Cynthia subsequently threw him out.
The only outsider in the play is Evan (Maurice Dean Wint) a no-nonsenseparole officer.
David Storch directs a fine cast through the good times and the economicand social deterioration of the group. The plant may be closing and Cynthia hasbeen promoted. Her friend Tracey who said she did not want the job is jealousand becomes abrasive. The relationship between Jason and Chris sours. Chriswants to go to college. Oscar, the quiet busboy, crosses the picket line andgoes to work in the plant.
With the plant closures the social fabric of the entire community getsfrayed. It is a frightful picture. As may be expected horrible violence breaksout leading to much worse results than the loss of work. I will not disclosethe end.
Kelli Fox is excellent as Tracey, a worker whose only job had been atthat plant. She is tough, assertive, angry and boisterous who in the end isleft with almost nothing. She must begin from the bottom.
Ordena Stephens-Thompson as Cynthia takes a promotion but is accused byher friends of treachery – you did not stand up for us. It is painful to watchher trying to defend herself against the indefensible when she has no controlof the situation. A superb performance.
Chris and Jason start out as friends but everything is shattered betweenthem when the economic conditions deteriorate and they lose their jobs. Theircharacters are perhaps the most affected by conditions in their town and theirlives are almost destroyed. Timothy Dowler-Coltman and Christopher Allen asJason and Chris personify the hopes and utter destruction of the two youngpeople.
The wretched druggy Brucie and the drunkard Jessie may represent thefinal stage of the deterioration of the people of the town and Bailey andFulton are terrific in their roles.
The set by designer Ken Mackenzie represents a bar and with a couple ofexceptions it is where the entire action of the play takes place. But the backof the stage is covered with a number of screens which are used for projectingimages and videos. They show politicians and other personalities as well asgiving us news about what is happening in the world outside of the town. Theplay takes place between 2000 and 2008. The videos are no doubt intended togive context to the play but they were frequently fuzzy, the speakers were not alwaysrecognizable and on many occasions they were a source of confusion rather thaninformation.
The acoustics of the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre make it soundlike an echo chamber and at times that did not help with hearing everythingthat was being said.
Nottage’s play is a powerful image of the effects on ordinary people ofuncontrolled capitalism. The tragedy is national and personal and the currentproduction brings it all in focus for an outstanding night at the theatre.
Sweat by Lynn Nottagein a Canadian Stage and Studio 180 production continues until February 2, 2020at the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto,Ontario. www.canadianstage.com 416 368 3110