Tuesday, October 23, 2018


A very strong, compelling play, with adult language, is now at Capital Stage.  “Sweat,” by Lynn Nottage was the 2017 Pulitzer prize winner for drama.  It is very much a play for today and one with which many will identify.  The New Yorker calls this the “first theatrical landmark of the Trump era,” a work which attempts to explain the nationwide anxiety that helped put Donald J. Trump in the White House.

In 2008, two men, Jason (Ian Hopps) and Chris (Tarig Elsiddig) have just been released from prison and are meeting with their parole officer (James R. Ellison III).  We don’t know why they were imprisoned or what the bad blood between these formerly good friends is, but in flashbacks (aided by TV news clips showing politicians and timely news as well as relevant tunes of the day) we see what led up to their incarceration.

The setting is Reading, Pennsylvania, which was in 2002 named the “poorest town in America.”  There is a Cheers-like bar (though cheerless) presided over by bartender Stan (Matt K. Miller).  Into the bar come the six regulars and the janitor Oscar (Evan Lucero).

Except for Stan and Oscar, everyone has worked at the local mill for decades (Stan had to quit because of an injury.  “Getting injured was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Got me out of that vortex.”) and the underlying feelings of anger and frustration are apparent from the beginning.

The conversation all centers around working conditions, poor pay and fear that they will lose their jobs if the factory move to Mexico–and then what will they do? 
Two of the women, Jessie (Kelley Ogden) and Cynthia (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) decide to apply for a position in upper management, which will mean more money, fewer hours, and the chance to help those on the floor better their conditions.

Things begin to fall apart when Cynthia is hired and friendships begin to shatter over working conditions and what she can, or should do about them.

When the worst happens and the workers are locked out of the factory (without even given the chance to clean out their lockers) everyone learns the cruel lesson that you can be a dedicated worker for decades, do your job, often work overtime without pay, graciously accept less than ideal working conditions, but when push comes to shove, you mean nothing to the managers. It doesn’t pay to be a “good guy.”

As Stan says, “I’m in the hospital for nearly two months.  I can’t walk.  Can’t feel my toes.  Not one of those ***s called to check on me, to say ‘I’m sorry for not fixing the machine...’ The only time I heard from them was when they sent their lawyer to the hospital because they didn’t want me to sue. Twenty-eight years.  That’s when I knew I was nobody to them.  Nobody!”

Though this is set in 2000 and 2008, one of the characters swears he will never vote again because what is the use?  (Which may be the best excuse to remind people to get out and vote in 2 weeks!).

Michael Stevenson has directed a tight, riveting drama that will have an impact on everyone, whether part of the upper class, or one of those who are experiencing such situations every day. It is one of those “not to be missed” productions for which Capitol stage is often known and there’s not a weak link in the cast.  Everyone is at the top of their game.

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