Sweatcurrently playing at the Gamm Theater in Warwick, is a powerful play that explores friendships and friendships gone wrong, race, economics, all set in the troubled community of Reading, Pennsylvania.
Lynn Nottage won a Pulitzer for Sweatand the play was nominated for Tony Awards on Broadway for Best Play, and two of its actresses for Best Supporting Actress.
It’s a must-watch, and one that will take you deep into your emotions as you watch friendships disintegrate following lost jobs at the steelworks, where many were employed. The setting, a bar in Reading, where friends gathered for drinks, celebrated events and remained oblivious to signs of a troubling local economy.
Nottage spent years researching a community where 40% of its residents would be impoverished, among the poorest communities in America.
I saw the play on Broadway, when it premiered, and considered the play and its Broadway performance among the most powerful I have ever seen. I come with a union background, so there are a lot of things I can relate to.
The Gamm production is very good, maybe not up to Broadway standards, but close. To be fair, see Sweat for the second time, there are no surprises for me, in a play full of surprises, and an ending that leaves the audience dumbfounded. On Broadway, when the play ended, the audience sat in silence for a few seconds before rising in unison to thunderous applause. And this was also the case at Gamm.
The play begins with an encounter between a parole officer and two ex-convicts, and drifts in time to the fictional bar in Reading and three women, childhood friends, all of whom work at the nearby steel mill.
As trouble looms at the steel mill, one of the women is promoted to a management position, and the company begins moving equipment and jobs to Mexico. The union goes on strike and tensions at the bar increase, money runs out and relations become strained.
At the center are not only the women, but the two parolees (the sons of two of the women), the bartender, Stan (played by Steve Kidd), and a bartender, Oscar (played by Jaime Jose Hernandez.
Sometimes deep dramas make it difficult to understand the underlying message. Not here. It’s crystal clear, and Nottage’s research brings the reality of a struggling community to life.
I often mention that I believe that while history books can chronicle a particular moment in time, it is only through the arts (performing, music, dance, visual) that we learn the soul of a society. Sweat let’s do this.
The set was sufficiently limited in a certain sense by its actual size. Where the expanse of the Broadway stage allowed for greater separation between the parolee interview and the bar, everything at the Gamm was in the bar, leaving the various settings for things like an office up to the audience’s imagination. parole or a small house.
Each of the actors played their part well – perhaps a bit understated in the first act, but clearly with enormous passion in the event-filled, second act. In particular, I thought Steve Kidd was exceptional as Stan the bartender; Eric Robles as Chris, one of the sons; and Jaime Jose Hernandez as Oscar the bar assistant.
Conor Delaney as Jason, Kym Gomes as Cynthia, Casey Seymour Kim as Tracey, Jermaine L. Pearson as Even (the parole officer), Jason Quinn as Brucie, and Kelly Seigh as Jessie all play their roles well.
The play is directed by Rachel Walshe, who does a remarkable job, and with a special mention to Normand Beauregard, the director of the fights.
Sweat plays at Gamm until November 27th. For tickets, call 401-723-4266 or visit the theater’s website at www.gammtheatre.org.