Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sweat **** A

After acclaimed productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage, the timely new play by Pulitzer winner and MacArthur fellow Lynn Nottage (Ruined; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Intimate Apparel) has finally arrived at the Public Theater. It was worth the wait. The play might have been subtitled “Reasons To Hate NAFTA” or “How the Rust Belt Creates Trump Voters.” However, while corporate greed, globalization, racism and immigration policy all underlie the action, the play is not a sociopolitical screed. Nottage wisely keeps our attention on vividly drawn characters and on how forces beyond their control are refracted in their lives. Most of the action is set in 2000 at an after-work bar popular with employees of a metal tubing plant in Reading, PA. We meet three middle-age women — Cynthia (Michelle Wilson), Tracey (Johanna Day) and Jessie (Miriam Shor) — who have worked together on the plant floor for over 20 years. Cynthia’s son Chris (Khris Davis) and Tracey’s son Jason (Will Pullen), who also work at the plant, are best buddies. Cynthia’s estranged husband Brucie (John Earl Jelks) also frequents the bar. Stan the bartender (James Colby) used to work at the plant too until he was injured by a defective piece of equipment. Oscar (Carlo Alban), the bar’s Hispanic porter, might as well be invisible for all the attention he gets from customers. Cynthia is black, but her race has never been an issue until she is promoted to management over others. Her new position is hardly enviable when the plant owners decide to downsize. The play’s first and final scenes are set in 2008. As the play opens, parole officer Evan (Lance Coadie Williams) is conducting separate interviews with Jason and Chris, who have finished prison terms for a crime they committed eight years earlier. We flash back to 2000 to see the escalating events that led to the shocking crime and finally back to 2008 to see the consequences. It all makes for a gripping experience. The cast is uniformly excellent. John Lee Beatty’s revolving set is evocative, as are Jennifer Moeller’s costumes. Director Kate Whoriskey (Ruined) once again does Nottage full justice. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission.

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