A Cautionary Tale: 5 & Dime A Theatre Company Presents Pulitzer Prize-Winning Drama 'Sweat', Photo by Josh Andrews, David Girard, Rashaud Sessoms, Joren
David Girard, Rashaud Sessoms, and Joren Wallace, Photo by Josh Andrews

A Cautionary Tale: 5 & Dime A Theatre Company Presents Pulitzer Prize-Winning Drama ‘Sweat’

A Cautionary Tale: 5 & Dime A Theatre Company Presents Pulitzer Prize-Winning Drama 'Sweat'

5 & Dime A Theatre Company is taking a step away from the “living room” plays into the dingy pall of a blue-collar Pennsylvania bar with Sweat, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Lynn Nottage. Sweat explores the complex ecosystem of a factory town collapsing under its own weight. 

Poverty isn’t entertaining but it makes for compelling theatre when it’s dissected down to the bone. Lee Hamby, a founding member of 5 & Dime, is thrilled to present this stark portrayal in its Northeast Florida premiere. 

“It is definitely a very serious, important story. It will definitely make people think. It’s one of those shows for us that a lot of people talk about but no one has ever done it yet,” he says. “The politics of the workforce, family, that’s what this is all about. This might not be our world but it definitely relates to all of us in some way.”

A Cautionary Tale: 5 & Dime A Theatre Company Presents Pulitzer Prize-Winning Drama 'Sweat', Erin Barnes, Photo by Josh Andrews
Erin Barnes, Photo by Josh Andrews

Directed by Lindsay Curry, Sweat is presented by The 5 & Dime: A Theatre Company and Redgie and Holly Gutshall Aug. 2-18 (www.the5anddime.org) featuring performances by Jas Abramowitz, David Girard, Erin Barnes, Kat McLeod Raspa, Antoinette Johnson, Jaron Wallace, Rashaud Sessoms, Richie Rosado and Sean Clinkscales.

With its Pulitzer pedigree, Sweat was compiled through exhaustive research and interviews to create a fully realized look at the lives of those on the factory line, going through the repeated motions of a life that will never deliver more than the meager existence they are struggling to overcome. 

A Cautionary Tale: 5 & Dime A Theatre Company Presents Pulitzer Prize-Winning Drama 'Sweat', Photo by Josh Andrews
Photo by Josh Andrews

Most of the scenes take place in the local tavern, a communal meeting place where the people of Reading come to drink their troubles away. Jas Abramowitz as bartender Stan connects with his character’s bartender-poet-philosopher style, his loyalty and work ethic and empathy for his crew. When the recession and housing crisis decimated the Midwest, Abramowitz witnessed many of his friends and family lose jobs, homes, dignity and ultimately, their identity. 

“So much of who we are, we define as what we do. When that identify no longer exists, what do we turn to in order to fill the void?” he says in his bio. “Each character in this play answers that question in their own unique and beautiful way.”

Nottage mined for material back in 2011 in a series of interviews with residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which according to the United States Census Bureau, was among the poorest cities in America at the time with a poverty rate of over 40 percent. 

A Cautionary Tale: 5 & Dime A Theatre Company Presents Pulitzer Prize-Winning Drama 'Sweat', Photo by Josh Andrews, Sean Clinkscales, Rashaud Sessoms
Sean Clinkscales and Rashaud Sessoms, Photo by Josh Andrews

It’s a timely piece that reflects the plight of the disenfranchised union workers in a poverty-stricken Pennsylvania steel town. Sweat tackles issues of identity, race, and economy in the stark portrayal of townspeople struggling to find their identity when the essence of their existence is stripped away.  

Sweat volleys in time to portray a series of relationships including a parole officer and two ex-convicts and three women who were childhood friends and later worked together on the same factory line. When rumors of layoffs begin to stir, rifts form, chipping away at their trust and pitting them against each other. The show is both a topical reflection of the present and a poignant dissection of the outcome of America’s second great economic depression and a cautionary tale the 5 & Dime is not afraid to tell.

“A lot of other theaters are afraid because its not family-friendly or they don’t think their audiences will come see it,” says Hamby. “We have the balls to do it.”

About Liza Mitchell