Through May 21 |
SWEAT Road Less Traveled Productions/RLTP Theatre
Recently, I was on Route 5 near the old Union Ship Canal and saw a decaying street running East, flanked by a chain of vacant lots.
I knew that street because back on the day when the closing of Bethlehem Steel was announced, I went bar to bar along that street interviewing workers about losing their jobs.
Eventually, it meant all those bars were closed and demolished, bars which were there for the workers every hour they were legally allowed to be pouring shots and beers.
Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat” is about one of those bars, somewhere around Reading, Pa. back in 2000.
Industry was dying and the workers couldn’t figure out why nothing was being done to help them, to continue the generations of workers who showed up for every shift to run the machinery to supply America.
I had occasion years before that to get tours of both Bethlehem and Republic Steel, both once-upon-a-time employers in iron and steel, and conditions were terrible, even for a young reporter who carried nothing heavier than a notebook.
Generations of workers went in every day and built families and cities and a nation and they watched it all go away, while economic inequity increased.
Playwright Nottage spins her story around the bar, run by a disabled worker from a plant (David Mitchell) and a young Latino looking for work (Alejandro Gabriél Gómez), who can’t get one of the high-paid industrial jobs because the prior immigrants are holding on to them for dear life and have for generations.
We don’t know what the central plant actually makes, with the playwright clearly saying the specificity doesn’t matter in the larger picture.
The story opens eight years later than the core story and it takes most of the play to understand why the story unwinds to the opening as it does.
Chris (Jake Hayes) and Jason (Johnny Barden) are with what appears to be a parole officer and they are not doing well, recently out of the slammer.
Then, the show reverts Chris and Jason to when they are new workers in the plant where their moms work, Tracey (Lisa Vitrano) and Cynthia (Davida Tolbert).
The moms are veteran plant workers who hang out in the bar with their buddy Jessie (Diane DiBernardo).
Nottage makes things more and more complicated, including Cynthia getting a promotion into management, which breaks up the trio.
Let’s leave the story right there and let those in the audience learn what happens.
Delivering a strong production, director Victoria Pérez has a dynamic cast to work with, led by Chris’ father Brucie (John Vines) and Mitchell’s Stan the bartender.
They are followed closely by Hayes and Barden.
Pérez is working with one of Road Less Traveled’s usual fine sets, this time from Gina Boccolucci.
There is a peculiar resonance to the backstory of “Sweat,” the rising and falling industrial history of this region, all those old industries which are now market rate housing.
Closing those companies let the owners live better on their profits, like one of my former employers who cut a third of our staff one November morning and wound up with millions, sending us off with unemployment packages.
All deserve to have their stories told.
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