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Theater review by David Cote
The core message of Lynn Nottage’s wake-up social tragedy Sweat is clarion clear and to share it does not spoil the show: We must help each other or we’re dead. Whether that means the rich pay more, the poor get health care or trans people enjoy greater legal protections, we have to unite these states. Nottage’s passionate and necessary drama, which transferred to Broadway after a run last year at the Public Theater, is a masterful depiction of the forces that divide and conquer us.
Those agents shattering friendships and unions range from alcohol—used and abused nightly at the bar in Reading, Pennsylvania, where most of the scenes are set—to inhumane negotiating tactics used by the local factory to drive down workers’ wages. Drug addiction and anti-immigrant bigotry work like acid, destroying marriages and turning a convivial refuge into a hate-crime scene.
Director Kate Whoriskey’s fluid and propulsive staging benefits from an excellent cast led by the fearless triad of Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson and Alison Wright, who play plant drones and tight friends destabilized when one of them moves into management. James Colby adds sensible notes as a kindhearted but ineffectual bartender, and the vibrant Khris Davis and Will Pullen are young buddies whose hope curdles into anger and violence.
Sweat communicates its points with minimal fuss and maximum grit. Along with the rage, despair and violence, there's humor and abundant humanity. Prophetic before the 2016 election, the piece now reads as a cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t know how to resist.
Studio 54. By Lynn Nottage. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. With Carlo Albán, James Colby, Khris Davis, Johanna Day, John Earl Jelks, Will Pullen, Lance Coadie Williams, Michelle Wilson and Alison Wright. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission. Through Sept 17.
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