Sweat is a poignant story about a group of steel factory workers living in Reading, Pennsylvania, whose lives are transformed in the midst of a recession. Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, the play reveals the chaotic results that stem from insecurities among a group of once tight-knit co-workers, bringing to light their distrust, entitlement issues, prejudices, and their struggle to retain and define the American Dream.
The play begins at a parole office where two young adults have recently gotten out of prison and are now reflecting on how they got there – the story unfolds, flashing back to where it all began. The stage then switches over to a lively bar scene, we see billboards above the set with images of dates and video clips of events that run from 2000 through 2008.
The local watering hole depicted, is where we see the characters tell their raw stories of struggle and hopes and dreams for a better life. The bar is their second home, where they find refuge after work and celebrate life with one another, but it’s also a dark place where they are confronted with conflict, disagreements, and tough conversations.
The play provides a lens for understanding unscrupulous government policies and their trickle down effect on people’s livelihood, relationships, and the choices they make. It’s a thought provoking insightful look at many of the issues Americans faced in the 2000’s and continue to face today such as, drug use, unemployment, worker safety, poverty, gender issues, discrimination, anti-union businesses, and racism to name a few.
The entire cast did a great job in their portrayals, however Lise Bruneau who plays Tracey and Tonye Patano, who plays Cynthia – stood out in their roles. Tracey couldn’t shake her entitlement beliefs stemming from the fact that her family had worked at the steel factory for generations. This makes it exceptionally hard for her to transition as factory work is all she’s ever known, it’s become part of her identity. And then there’s Cynthia, a black hard working woman dealing with her husband’s drug use while continuing to manage pressures at work in a new lead role. As the days slowly lead towards the end of their current livelihoods, they must each find the strength to move on.
Sweat does not disappoint, it’s filled with drama and candor embedded with humor. The script will resonate with many, especially since it doesn’t sugarcoat racial tensions, nor the complex human emotions it portrays. I really enjoyed the play and feel that it can spark integral conversations about race, gender, immigration, and politicians and their policies. I also appreciated the diverse cast, it didn’t erase or whitewash anyones experience. For those that lived through 2000 through 2008 and the current generation, it will have you contemplating how life has changed since then, if at all.
You can catch the show until October 21 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre (415 Geary St., San Francisco). Tickets range from $15-$110. The running time for Sweat is 2 hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.
For more details go to: act-sf.org