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Sweat

(Left to right) Gustavo Marquez as Oscar, Sam Gregory as Stan, and Tara Falk as Tracey
(L to R) Gustavo Marquez as Oscar, Sam Gregory as Stan, and Tara Falk as Tracey
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
Though Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning script does not touch directly on the objectives of global capital, it does capture the ravages of such a system on a group of friends and family—who have, for generations, provided the labor for a plant in Reading, Pennsylvania—as well as elucidate the universal economic and emotional truths that Nottage found there, during her source interviews.

Lights up, and we begin with the current storyline from 2008, with a probation officer, Evan (William Oliver Watkins), questioning two parolees: Jason (Derek Chariton), whose blue tattoos on his shaved head and white face make him look right out of central casting for the Aryan Brotherhood; and, Chris (Jordan Bellow), a handsome, yet sullen African-American.

Sam Gregory as Stan
Sam Gregory as Stan
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
 
Cut to the flashback, at Mike’s Tavern, a neighborhood watering hole, in 2000, where working class folk, black and white, bond while airing their grievances and sharing their stories. Stan (Sam Gregory) is tending bar and engaging with all his friends and customers. He's a local who worked at the plant for 28 years and knows the scene intimately. Gregory's Stan is a wizened, avuncular bar therapist, dispensing news, perspective, and advice as smoothly as he draws the house beer-on-tap.

(Left to right) Leslie Kalarchian as Jessie, Tara Falk as Tracey, Cycerli Ash as Cynthia, and Timothy D. Stickney as Brucie
Leslie Kalarchian as Jessie,
Tara Falk as Tracey,
Cycerli Ash as Cynthia,
and Timothy D. Stickney as Brucie
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
Co-workers Tracey (Tara Falk) and Cynthia (Cycerli Ash) order another round and discuss Cynthia's ex-boyfriend, Brucie (Timothy D. Stickney), who lost his job at another plant during a current 93-week strike and lockout (after management asked them to give up their retirement), and is now hooked on dope. At another table, Jessie (Leslie Kalarchian) stirs from her alcoholic stupor. Later at the bar, Jason and Chris knock it around with Stan. At this point, it could be a scene from any number of bars around the world, but in short order, the privateers and profiteers pull the rug out from underneath these workers, excavating old prejudices among some of the locals, which leads to the violent event—a fight with baseball bats precipitated by Jason targeting his anger and racism at Oscar (Gustavo Marquez), Stan's assistant—that ties the two storylines together.

"We must keep the people busy with political antagonisms. We’ll therefore speed up the question of (fill in the blank) within the Democratic Party; and we’ll put the spotlight on (fill in the blank) [for] the Republican Party. By dividing the electorate in this way, we’ll be able to have them spend their energies at struggling amongst themselves on questions that, for us, have no importance whatsoever." —US Bankers magazine, 1892 (Sarah E. Van De Vort Emery, Imperialism in America: Its Rise and Progress, Emery & Emery, 1893, pp. 71-72, as quoted in the Chicago Daily Press)

(Left to right) Jordan Bellow as Chris and William Oliver Watkins and Evan
(L to R) Jordan Bellow as Chris
and William Oliver Watkins and Evan
Photo: Adams VisCom
There are a number of beautifully performed dramatic arcs in the story, but the catharsis arises in the final scene, when the participants in the fight—Jason, Chris, Stan, and Oscar—meet again for the first time in eight years. Most remarkably in this moment, after detailing the destruction of a culture built from generations of strong union representation and comfortable incomes, Nottage leaves us with a spiritual message about taking care of each other.

In many ways, the awarding of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Nottage's Sweat is akin to the award in 1949, given to Arthur Miller for Death of a Salesman, in terms of its criticism of capitalism by way of a personal example. Obviously, this is the only approach that permits such criticism to be staged and heralded in the financial capital of the U.S. (New York City). Nevertheless, because of Nottage's present stature in the theatre (two Pulitzer Prizes [the other in 2009 for Ruined] and a MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellowship), she commanded a high visibility production of this powerful work.

Sam Gregory as Stan and Derek Chariton as Jason
Sam Gregory as Stan (rear)
and Derek Chariton as Jason (front)
Photo: Adams VisCom
 
Hats off to her for not backing down and getting this by the censors. This serves as a perfect example of what is needed in the American theatre which, for the most part, doesn't address the tyranny under which we live. Perhaps we need more revivals of Giraudoux, Anouilh, and Ionesco written during the Vichy era, when the Nazis controlled France. Corporate control over the state is one of the textbooks definitions of fascism, and that is certainly what we have here.

In case anyone needs another example of the lesson here—"While labor creates value through work, capital is always seeking to reduce labor costs and increase profits."—here are two:

December 13, 2018: "GM Manages To Find $22 Million To Pay CEO As It Closes 5 Plants And Lays Off 15,000 Workers".

May 14, 2019: While Reaping $21 Billion Windfall From Trump Tax Cuts, Report Shows, AT&T Slashed 23,000 Jobs

The Denver Center Theatre Company's presentation of Sweat, by Lynn Nottage, directed by Rose Riordan, runs through May 26th. For tickets: denvercenter.org/tickets-events/sweat/.

Bob Bows



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