Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
I found Ms. Nottage's earlier plays Intimate Apparel and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark to be well-researched looks at a particular area or subject but they did not fill the theater with explosive energy that leaps off the stage, and the same is the case with Sweat. She spent a considerable amount of time in Reading, Pennsylvania, interviewing residents of one of the poorest cities in America about their lives as factory workers after their jobs disappeared to Mexico and other places. What we have is the story of two generations, three women friends with combined years in the mills and two of their sons. It is written with quite a left-leaning viewpoint, but really offers a great deal to think about, vis a vis how our economic policies are affecting the working classes. I am intellectually stimulated by this play, less so emotionally, in part because I feel Ms. Nottage writes with an emotional range from M or N to Z. The characters are always in crisis and notch it up from there.
Asolo Rep's cast is excellent across the board. Danielle Lee Greaves as Cynthia, the leader of sorts of the women friends, and Matt DeCaro as bartender Stan stand out a bit because their roles are showier. Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann as Tracey and Liz Zweifler as Jessie complete the triangle of friends. There is a strong sense of chemistry among the three. All show up for a birthday even when relationships are strained, but all continue to live inside their own personal issues. This is where Ms. Nottage's strong writing helps gifted actors give their best.
Matthew Kresch is Jason, Cynthia's son, and Kevin Minor is Chris, Jessie's son. They exhibit the friendship of young men, not as deeply connected as their mothers. Gabriel Lawrence is their probation officer, Evan, attempting to also offer a moral center for them to grab onto, but I find the writing for this character untruthful. Bruce A. Young gives a harrowing portrayal of Brucie, an alcoholic circling the drain. Rudy Galvan plays bar-back Oscar, a character not fleshed out until late in the second act when it is a little too late.
Nicole A. Watson directs with a sure hand. She assisted on the original Oregon Shakespeare Production so I have reason to believe the author's wishes are respected here. All of Asolo's awesome technical shops are at their best, with scenic design by Paige Hathaway, costume design by Trevor Bowen, lighting design by Andrew F. Griffin, sound design by Kate Marvin. As usual, Michelle Hart's hair, wig and make-up design is a major asset.
Sweat honestly examines the lives of people not often put up on a stage. A well done film of this play would be a valuable educational resource for sociology, economics, and political science classes. It is a play that begs for small group discussions. I am glad Asolo Rep is putting on such a fine production.
Sweat, through April 13, 2019, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):