Reviewer: Kristine Gotham
Venue: Pit and Balcony Theatre
Pit and Balcony Theatre continued its 91st season with the Regional Premier of Sweat by Lynn Nottage. The play focuses on seven people who work or have worked in a local manufacturing plant, some have worked there for years, some are newcomers, and one worked there until he was injured and let go. Each character appreciates having a job with a salary that is far above what they might find elsewhere. They can afford to live their life and have extras like motorcycles and vacations. But, a change is coming. They hear the rumors but believe that is all they are, rumors. Until the rumor becomes fact, the plant is changing. The union doesn’t have the power it once did. The character’s reactions to this change impact their lives in significant ways.
The play is centered in Reading, Pennsylvania, a manufacturing town, in 2002 and 2008. The central location is a local bar, the place where the workers go to hang out and have a beer after shift. Bartender, Stan (Matthew Turner), has tended the bar for years. He used to work at the plant but an injury on the job forced him to find a different line of work. Now he serves drinks to the workers, listens to their stories, and relates to them with a wisdom that can only be gained by someone who has been there.
Cynthia (Katrina Hill), Jessie (Annie Gower) and Tracey (Lyndzi Sakowski) have worked at the plant for more than two decades each. The plant wasn’t where they planned to work for their entire lives but once they hired in, they didn’t leave. Cynthia dreams of the day when she can retire and take a cruise through the Panama Canal. Her life is interrupted by the appearance of her husband, Brucie (Edward Walker), a one-time factory worker who was laid off and never found his way back into the plant. Brucie floats in and out of Cynthia’s life, making her happy one day and furious the next. Jessie remembers plans that she had before she hired in of traveling throughout the Middle East with her then boyfriend. Tracey is just living her life, having recently lost her husband. She doesn’t really see anything beyond her job in the plant.
Cynthia’s son, Chris (Amor Marrosa) and Tracey’s son, Jason (Nathan Hanley), are the new hires to the plant. Jason is perfectly happy working and making good money. He has his sights set on buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Chris has other plans. He wants to work double shifts through the summer to save enough money to pay his tuition for college. He aspires to be a teacher.
There is another player in this cast, Oscar (Richard Gomez). Oscar was born and raised in Reading, but has never been able to get a job at the plant, despite trying for several years. All of that will change for Oscar when the changes begin happening at the plant. His good fortune, however, is not celebrated by the other workers. In fact, he is seen as an interloper, one to be hated.
The worker’s feelings of anger and betrayal at the changes happening at the plant all come to a head one night at the bar. The intense emotion boils over into violence. The lives of Chris, Jason, Stan and Oscar are changed in ways they would never have thought.
There are two other players to this cast. Evan (Adam Williams) and radio announcer (Kevin Profitt), are only seen or heard for a short time, but they provide insight to the changes happening both in the character’s lives and in Reading at the time.
Sweat is a story of conflicts, Us vs Them, Labor vs Management, Whites vs Others, Union workers vs Non-union workers, Me vs Myself. Each of the characters deals in a different way with the conflicts that they encounter. In the end, they must each examine themselves, their beliefs, their dreams, their disappointments and make a choice regarding how they will live the rest of their lives and how they will interact with those around them.
Director, Michael Wisniewski, takes a very deep and emotional subject, and creates a story that is relatable to this day and time. Through his direction, the characters grow and develop into people that the audience members would recognize in their own lives.
The set and music are ideal choices for the times being portrayed. If I had one complaint, it would be the music that is played before the play even begins. It does not seem to fit the time or subject matter. The music that is heard before the production should set the stage for what is about to be presented on the stage.
Sweat is a play that speaks to the changes that happened in manufacturing towns throughout America in the early 2000s and are still happening today. It is a production that should not be missed. The production continues at Pit and Balcony Theatre throughout this weekend, March 17-19 and next March 24-26. Call the Box Office for tickets or purchase online.