Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of All My Sons
Most of the action takes place inside a bar in the factory town of Reading, Pennsylvania. The regulars include two generations of steelworkers, mothers and sons, who gather to drink and vent and celebrate their birthdays. The bartender worked on the floor until a leg injury ended his manufacturing career. Even the bus boy dreams of a job on the line although the others consider him an unworthy outsider because of his ethnicity. Their steel tubing factory has been the lifeblood of the community for generations, but America's manufacturing sector is changing. The narrative switches back and forth between 2000 (when the factory's troubles are just coming into focus) and 2008 (when sons Chris and Jason have just been released from prison, and mothers Cynthia and Tracey have fallen on hard times).
Walter DeShields and Matteo Scammell are riveting as Chris and Jason, with DeShields conveying a particular gravity. Kimberly Fairbanks gives a movingly honest performance as optimistic Cynthia. Tracey's smoldering frustration is fully voiced by Kittson O'Neill. Stand-out performances come from Rich Herbert as salt of the earth barkeep Stan and the always impressive Damien J. Wallace as Brucie, Chris's destitute father. Brucie was a real union man, and Wallace conveys the utter heartbreak of his failure and disillusionment.
Christopher Ash's first class set is oddly set back from the house, and the scenes that take place downstage allow for more of a connection with the audience. The costumes designed by LeVonne Lindsay are spot on. The projections are a little heavy handed (there are snippets of timely news programs to remind the audience of the political backdrop against which the play takes place) and a little less might be more here.
Philadelphia Theatre Company's bold production illustrates why Sweat has been the subject of so much critical acclaim. Without sentimentality or judgment we get a glimpse of the anxiety that would go on to change the shape of our nation. It is a sobering experience for the audience and a promising new beginning for the PTC.
Sweat runs through November 4, 2018, at Philadelphia Theatre Company's stage at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. Tickets are available in person at the box office, online at philatheatreco.org or by phone at 215-985-0420.