There’s no doubt Lynn Nottage’s Sweat is an important play, but boy is it depressing. Set in poverty-stricken working-class Reading, Pennsylvania (mostly in 2000), Sweat follows a group of friends who have shared many things while working together on a factory floor. But when ruthless management tactics result in layoffs and picket lines, life-long friends are at each others throats and repressed racist tendencies boil to the surface. Good times!
As desperate as circumstances are in this play, Nottage takes pains to let us know that it is possible to be humane and ethical in hard times – possible, but painfully difficult. With the thousand daily shocks that 2017s political climate pummels us with, Sweat makes the point that those at the bottom have been pummeled for much longer. So, yes, incredibly important, but definitely not easy or fun.
Nottage packs the play to bursting with thoughts, emotions and incident, and director Kate Whoriskey keeps all that on track and moving lucidly and fluidly. With all the points of view Sweat tries to cover, it is by necessity an ensemble piece, and is blessed with a ferociously talented cast.
For me, Carlo Albán is the standout as Colombian-American barback Oscar, the person lowest in this vicious pecking order. He does an amazing, understated job of communicating Oscar’s indomitable hope in the face of almost impossible odds. Not actual optimism, mind you, but a carefully hidden and protected hope. Dark as hell, but worthwhile, and therefore recommended.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.