Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Cleveland Play House
Review by David Ritchey

Also see David's review of Pride and Prejudice

The Cast of Sweat
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
Playwright Lynn Nottage takes her audience on a journey into the heart of America in her Pulitzer Prize winning play Sweat. The story is set in a factory in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2000 and 2008, and follows nine characters who are tied to the factory and the neighboring bar. Early in the story, life is good—people have jobs and can earn a living that supports their families and provides the necessities and a few luxuries of life. By 2008, the economy is in trouble and the factory has gone belly up, sold some of its equipment, and locked out employees. Former employees wonder where the next job will come from.

Cleveland Play House tackles this excellent script, with Nottage's story one that most audience members will relate to or have read about.

One topic that rocks this cast of characters is loyalty. These employees pride themselves on their loyalty to the company. They worked hard, didn't always demand a raise, and succeeded as a team. But, now, is the company loyal to its employees? The executives have locked out the very people who worked on the floor and ran the machines. If the machines don't run, the product isn't produced, and no one makes any money.

The failure of the economy drifts out in concentric circles. Stan (Robert Ellis) runs a local bar where the factory workers stop before going home. Stan's economic report is simple—as the economy turns down, his business goes south.

Cynthia (Nehassaiu deGannes) has spent her career working on the floor, working the machines and working to make a go of it every day. Cynthia, Tracey (Nancy Lemenager) and Jessie (Chris Seibert) are a fun trio. They stop by the bar almost every evening after work for a drink before going home. They celebrate birthdays together. They take care of each other. When management makes a strategic decision to promote a woman to a supervisor's position, a wedge is driven into the friendship and it's over. They live in fear, drinking too much and spending too much of the little money they have.

In the 2000 scenes these three women are all smiles, happy and bubbling. As the story progresses and jobs start to disappear, they become fearful, frown and occasionally cry. How do they survive without anyone to support them or help them? In the 2000 sequences, the men are cute, fun loving, horse around, and look to the future. Should they go to school? Who are they dating? The future is theirs. By 2008, they want to fight—but, who should they fight? The economy doesn't have a name hanging on it. Eventually, a brawl breaks out.

Each character declines in his or her own personal way. These declines are painful to watch, yet are realistically written.

Director Laura Kepley helps her cast members internalize the pain of economic upheaval. With Sweat, she has directed one of the finest productions to come our way in a long time.

Robert Mark Morgan has created a variety of sets to complement the Nottage script: a seedy neighborhood bar, perfect for hanging out after work; rooms in homes and offices; and the exterior of the factory. He shows us where these characters live, work and play. Costume designer Lex Liang helps tell the story of economic upheaval. Cynthia's outfits show her ascent in the company; the other women show their decline as money has slipped away. The men dress in shabbier clothes as the economy declines.

Sweat is not a pleasant story, but it is the story of America at a time of economic problems. This is a production everyone should see and ponder.

Sweat, through November 4, 2018, in the Outcalt Theatre, Cleveland Play House, 1901 E. 13th Street, Cleveland OH. For ticket information call 216-400-7000.

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