The Arts Club makes you Sweat

The Tony-nominated play, Sweat, is now on stage at the Arts Club Theatre Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.  A co-production with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, this production is the Canadian Premiere of playwright Lynn Nottage’s second Pulitzer prize winner.  A gritty, raw drama that gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of a small group of residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, one of the poorest cities in the USA.

In spite of being written earlier, Sweat, shows how the era of deindustrialization during the George W Bush presidency, set up the election of Donald Trump. It’s easy to connect the characters in Sweat with the current Trump base.  As a result, the play could have very different reception depending on the demographics of the audience, city and country.

Sweat starts off in 2008 with a visit to a probation officer by two recently released convicts; Jason and Chris. In flashback we see the start of the story, in 2000 a group of friends and co-workers hang out at a local tavern.  We witness the disintegration of friendships and family as two co-workers, Tracey and Cynthia, compete for the same managerial promotion at ‘the factory’. When Cynthia gets the job, jealousy pushes Tracey to spread rumours that she only got the promotion because she is black. This begins the splinter in their friendship, which is further strained when Cynthia is forced to lock-out her friends and family when the union votes against the factories offer of concessions.  As the strike wears on the picket-line brings stress to all involved. Racism and anger grows as ‘scabs’ are hired to do their work for cheaper.  This leads Jason and Chris to impulsively make disastrous decisions in the heat of the moment, leading us back to the beginning and the probation office.

The whole company of Sweat admirably bring the realism of the characters to life, Nicole St. Martin as Tracey and Marci T. House as Cynthia especially stand out as the driving forces in the conflict.  While is it well written, the play feels a bit long at 2.5 hours (including intermission). It felt like Ms Nottage tries to packs in so much social commentary about, socio-economics, race relations, political history, with news/sports clips and music also helping to set the era, that the story feels bloated.  In spite of so much dialogue in the play, the ending felt abrupt with little resolution, at this moment letting the audience draw their own conclusion as to the fate of this collective. Also taking away from the climax, some unfortunate technical issues with lighting and audio in the final scenes distracted from the performances on stage.  However, if you like gritty, political, blue-collar dramas, Sweat is definitely in your wheelhouse and worth viewing.

Sweat plays at The Arts Club Theatre Company Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until November 18, 2018. Tickets are available from The Arts Club box office or online at artsclub.com 

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