A DUAL CRITICS THEATRE REVIEW
The 5 & Dime, Jacksonville’s Downtown theatre company, opened the American drama Sweat on August 2, which will remain on stage through August 18, 2019. The production was made possible by the financial support of Redgie & Holly Gutshall. The play, written by Lynn Nottage, debuted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and opened on Broadway in 2017, where it received three Tony nominations, which included Best Play.
The story is that of factory workers facing unforeseen and unimaginable changes in what Nottage has described as the American de-industrial revolution. The script is based on two years of research she spent in Reading, Pennsylvania, which included extensive interviews with residents.
The steel mill where the workers have spent their working life is facing economic difficulties, and their future is uncertain. Management is reducing production, considering layoffs, and recruiting non-union workers. Worse, perhaps they will move the plant to Mexico.
Most of the play is set in 2000, and takes place in place in a small local bar, the kind you find throughout America. A television mounted on the wall periodically displays news events. The bartender Stan (Jas Abramowtiz) had a disabling accident while working at the plant and was unable to return due to his physical limitations. Oscar (Richie Rosado) also works there; he is a personable young man who says that while everyone he meets thinks he is Puerto Rican, he is Columbian and he was born here. This bar is the place the factory workers go to drink and socialize with their friends; a second home for celebrating birthdays and major events.
While Cynthia (Antoinette Johnson) and Tracey (Erin Barnes) have been good friends, this friendship turns cold when Cynthia is promoted to a corporate office job. Tracey thinks she should have been selected, and says that the only reason Cynthia was given the job is because she is black. Jessie (Kat McLeod Raspa) is friends with both women, but she is in no position to intervene, as she has a drinking problem and is also worried about her job.
Cynthia’s husband Brucie (David Girard) had been an employee but was laid off almost two years ago. He’s currently unemployed and an addict.
Cynthia and Tracey have grown sons we meet in the opening scene (set in 2008). Chris (Rashaud Sessoms) and Jason (Jaron Wallace), who were friends in the past, have criminal records. They meet separately with their parole officer Evan (Sean Clinkscales) to discuss their plans for the future. Chris related to the officer that during his first encounter with Jason after being released from prison, he was anticipating a fight, but “We were hugging!”
As critics, we usually don’t talk about the ending of a play, so we won’t go further into the plot here, other than to say that while we wish all the characters were looking forward to their new careers in Information Technology, it didn’t turn out that way.
Lindsay Curry selected and directed this absolutely outstanding cast which brought many new talented performers to The 5 & Dime’s stage. She is both a talented director and actress, and, based on the set for “Sweat,” an excellent set designer.
This socially relevant drama is thought-provoking and classically American. We live in a world where companies move entire operations to foreign countries with cheaper labor. Opioids seem to be a growth industry. And it often seems the rich get richer, while workers are being replaced by machines and robots. And then what?
Additional Production Team members included Nicole Kosnic Anderson (Lighting Design), Kristen Walsh (Stage Manager), Pamela Bernkrant (Assistant Stag Manager), Lee Hamby & Cast (Costume Design), Drew J. Brown (Projection Design), Bradley Akers (Graphic Design), and Caitlin Charrier (Fight Choreographer).
The 5 & Dime is located at 112 East Adams Street; additional information is available on the company’s Facebook page. For reservations, call (904) 637-5100 or visit www.The5andDime.org.