It didn’t take much. Some loose footing here, a push there. And then, in 2008, everything we’d been working toward since the end of World War II was gone. Many were caught off-guard, and that is the simplified summary of Lynn Nottage‘s 2017 Pulitzer-Prize winning play Sweat.
Profile Theatre‘s searing production of Sweat, directed by Christopher Acebo, summarizes America’s undoing from 2000-2008 through the lens of second- and third-generation steel workers at a struggling plant in Reading, Pennsylvania.
As the play opens, it’s 2008. Chris (La’Tevin Alexander) and Jason (Jim Vadala) have recently been released from prison. They meet with their parole officer, Evan (Bobby Bermea) about what’s next in their lives.
Flashback to 2000, in a bar managed by Stan (Duffy Epstein). The ladies–Cynthia (Cycerli Ash), Tracey (Linda Hayden), and Jessie (Alissa Jessup)–are celebrating Jessie’s birthday. Everyone is drinking, everyone is employed, everyone is happy, except, perhaps Stan, who used to work at the steel mill. “You could wake up tomorrow and all your jobs are in Mexico,” he tells them. Hahaha.
As the months wear on, cracks appear in the happy barroom tableau. Cynthia gets the promotion over Tracey. Brucie (Victor Mack) wants money for drugs. Jessie drinks more. Union and management struggles intensify at the steel mill. The formerly invisible Oscar (Chris Ramirez) crosses the picket line. And then, the violence.
Sweat is an emotional and emotionally demanding play. Every one of the characters is real, three-dimensional, and sympathetic. Prior to writing Sweat, Nottage interviewed hundreds of the residents of Reading–the dismissed, the suddenly invisible, the working poor, those unemployed and underemployed since their jobs disappeared. She breaks down the de-industrial revolution through the lens of a history play, but also delves into the issues of the economy, immigration, race-relations, and politics.
Reading provides a microcosm of what happened in America so recently all of us have first-hand knowledge. Although it’s a story we all know, Nottage gives it voice, empathy, and understanding. It’s a huge play brought to life at Profile by excellent acting and directing.
The creative team includes Peter Ksander, scenic design; Alex Pletcher, costume design; Kristeen Willis, lighting design; Rodolfo Ortega, sound design; Stephanie Mulligan, stage Manager; Breydon Little, production assistant; Danny Gray, properties manager; Michael Cavazos, assistant director; Michelle Maida, voiceover; and Sam Dinklowitz, fight director.
Sweat runs through February 2 at the Imago Theatre venue located at 17 SE 8th Ave., Portland, 97214.