WARWICK, RI — Perhaps it’s fitting that the Gamm Theatre is presenting Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat” as voters head to the polls for the midterm elections.
This bleak tale of economic insecurity and class warfare is an incisive portrait of a country being ravaged by corporate greed.
Much of the action takes place in a bar in the working class town of Reading, PA. The employees of the local steel mill gather to drink some beer, share their dreams and frustrations, and to celebrate birthdays.
When the mill announces layoffs and effectively locks out their longtime workers, friendships and families are shattered.
Kym Gomes (“The Rant”) leads an excellent ensemble cast as Cynthia, who earns a long-deserved promotion to supervisor after toiling away at the mill for years. Her son Chris (Erik Robles) also works at the mill but has dreams of doing more with his life.
Casey Seymour Kim (“Assassins”) plays Tracey, Cynthia’s longtime friend and co-worker at the mill.
Much of the drama centers on the tensions which emerge after Cynthia settles into her new role at the mill. Tracey and her co-worker Jessie (Kelly Seigh) lash out at Cynthia for her supposed betrayal after they lose their jobs.
Meanwhile, Tracey’s somewhat troubled son Jason (beautifully played by newcomer Conor Delaney), also a mill worker, becomes enraged when barkeep Oscar (Jaime Jose Hernandez) takes a job at the steel mill for a higher rate of pay than he was earning.
Tracey also exhibits a touch of deep-seated racism in a private moment with Oscar. She believes that whites are losing their jobs to people of color.
“Sweat” takes place in 2000, in the months leading up to the tumultuous presidential election, and in 2008, when the stock market went into a free-fall in the waning months of the Republican George W. Bush presidency.
Director Rachel Walshe makes good use of Jessica Hill Kidd’s brilliant set design. The bar looks and feels authentic, complete with a television mounted on the wall and a jukebox in the corner.
But it’s the performances which really shine. The actors all bring tremendous depth and personality to their characters.
Besides the outstanding work of Gomes and Seymour Kim, there’s also Jason Quinn (“An Octoroon”) as Cynthia’s hard-drinking ex-husband; Steve Kidd (“Ironbound”) as Stan, the sympathetic bartender, and Jermaine Pearson (“A Raisin in the Sun”) as a compassionate parole officer.
There’s an act of violence which occurs late in the play, and it deftly underlines the mendacity of corporations outsourcing their manufacturing plants to foreign countries to increase their profits.
When the lifeblood of a town is a factory, and the people who have worked there for years are suddenly pitted against each other in a battle for survival, it results in shattered dreams and lives.
There’s a poignant moment when two of the characters express their cynicism about Washington politicians not being able to comprehend the everyday struggles of the working class in America.
“Sweat” serves as a wake-up call to corrupt and self-serving politicians who ignore the real problems of working people. When they are continually being exploited by their employers and by the government, who can blame them for lashing out? If we do not take steps to address the problem of wealth inequality in our society, the price we all will pay could be devastating.
Simply put, “Sweat” is one of the year’s best shows.
Sweat runs from Nov. 3 – 27 at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. For tickets, call 401-723-4266 or gammtheatre.org/sweat. Health and safety protocols at gammtheatre.org.
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