The play begins in 2008, with a parole officer meeting separately with two young men recently released from prison. We then flash back to 2000 and the events leading up to the "incident" that landed both men, who were at one time best friends, in jail. All of the action takes place in a neighborhood bar that's also a community hangout, with friends and coworkers from the local factory gathering after work - celebrating birthdays, getting into fights with exes, reminiscing about their past, and dreaming about their future. Between scenes news tickers run across the stage, about local events, the upcoming election, and increasingly bad news about the economy (sound familiar?). Our friends are personally affected when the plant begins to cut jobs, moving them overseas or offering them to non-union workers, and one of the friends gets promoted above the others. Tensions build to the boiling point, resulting in a shocking moment of violence that forever changes the lives of everyone involved.
Director Tamilla Woodard, new to the Guthrie stage, creates a very natural and real feeling throughout the play, balancing moments of humor with the darker events. The entire cast, mostly non-local, are absolutely fantastic as they embody these very specific humans that feel like real people rather than caricatures. The cast includes Terry Bell and Noah Plomgren as the two very different young men Chris and Jason, the former with bigger dreams, the latter satisfied to remain in the same job and town; Mary Bacon, Lynnette R. Freeman, and Amy Staats as the three friends whom circumstances drive apart; and locals Ansa Akyea as Chris' down-on-his-luck dad, a perfectly cast Terry Hempleman as the bartender/counselor, Antonio Rios-Luna as a bar employee, and Darius Dotch as the parole officer.
|the cast of Sweat (photo by Dan Norman)|
After its 2017 Broadway run, Sweat toured the country, playing in towns like Reading, including here in Minnesota. The economic and political situation in this country, currently and over the last 20 years, is extremely complicated. Lynn Nottage's Reading plays attempt to, maybe not explain it, but provide context and empathy about how peoples lives have changed and the desperation that can ensue. As I've written before, Sweat is "as devastating as it is true to American life."
It felt great to be at the Guthrie with two brilliant but very different shows running at the same time (Sweat in the proscenium theater, Kate Hamill's delightful world premiere adaptation of Emma on the thrust stage). They were even selling limited concessions for the first time this year. The Guthrie Theater is my happy place, and it's starting to feel almost back to normal, with that feeling of excitement in the art and artists. Both plays are continuing through August 21, and are both definitely worth experiencing.