Theatre Review: “Sweat”

Sweat Studio 54 Production Staff Theatre Owned / Operated by Roundabout Theatre Company (Todd Haimes: Artistic Director/CEO; Julia C. Levy: Executive Director; Sydney Beers: General Manager; Steve Dow: Chief Administrative Officer) Produced by Stuart Thompson and Louise Gund Co-commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Arena Stage (Molly Smith, Artistic Director; Edgar Dobie, Executive Director); Produced off-Broadway by The Public Theater (Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director; Patrick Willingham, Executive Director) Written by Lynn Nottage; Original Music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen Directed by Kate Whoriskey Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty; Costume Design by Jennifer Moeller; Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen; Projection Design by Jeff Sugg General Manager: Thompson Turner Productions; Company Manager: Daniel Hoyos Production Manager: Aurora Productions; Production Stage Manager: Donald Fried Press Representative: Boneau / Bryan-Brown; Advertising: SPOTCo, Inc. Cast Carlo Albán Broadway debutOscar James Colby Stan Khris Davis Broadway debut Chris Johanna Day Tracey John Earl Jelks Brucie Will Pullen Broadway debut Jason Lance Coadie Williams Broadway debut Evan Michelle Wilson Cynthia Alison Wright Broadway debut Jessie Understudies: Benton Greene (Brucie, Chris, Evan), Hunter Hoffman (Jason), Steve Key (Stan), Deirdre Madigan (Jessie, Tracey), Lisa Renee Pitts (Cynthia) and Reza Salazar (Oscar)

There’s no doubt Lynn Nottage’s Sweat is an important play, but boy is it depressing. Set in poverty-stricken working-class Reading, Pennsylvania (mostly in 2000), Sweat follows a group of friends who have shared many things while working together on a factory floor. But when ruthless management tactics result in layoffs and picket lines, life-long friends are at each others throats and repressed racist tendencies boil to the surface. Good times!

As desperate as circumstances are in this play, Nottage takes pains to let us know that it is possible to be humane and ethical in hard time – possible, but painfully difficult. With the thousand daily shocks that 2017s political climate pummels us with, Sweat makes the point that those at the bottom have been pummeled for much longer. So, yes, incredibly important, but definitely not easy or fun.

Nottage packs the play to bursting with thoughts, emotions and incident, and director Kate Whoriskey keeps all that on track and moving lucidly and fluidly. With all the points of view Sweat tries to cover, it is by necessity an ensemble piece, and is blessed with a ferociously talented cast.

For me, Carlo Albán is the standout as Colombian-American barback Oscar, the person lowest in this vicious pecking order. He does an amazing, understated job of communicating Oscar’s indomitable hope in the face of almost impossible odds. Not actual optimism, mind you, but a carefully hidden and protected hope. Dark as hell, but worthwhile, and therefore recommended.

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Written by Jonathan Warman

Jonathan Warman

Jonathan Warman is’s exclusive theatre critic. He also writes regular music and cabaret reviews. Jonathan is also accomplished freelance Stage Director. You can e-mail him at or by clicking on the social networking links below.

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