No, this play is not about what we Angelenos have all been doing this summer!
I should not even joke about it because Sweat highlights a very heavy issue for so many people, even though much of it is done with humor.
Every complainer pal of mine needs to see this Pulitzer Prize-winning play that’s come to the Mark Taper Forum from Broadway, because it will break-down real-life for them. One of my more shallow friends, (who was very kind otherwise,) once told me she was having the worst day of her life. When I asked why, she answered seriously, “Because I can’t find a black tie dress!” This play about factory workers in Pennsylvania will bring similarly-privileged viewers right back down to earth. Or at least it should.
To explain why my mind was not exactly prepared for what I saw on stage on opening night, I had read only this first part of the press release: “Filled with warm humor and tremendous heart, Sweat tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets, and laughs while working together on the factory floor.” So I thought it was going to be a comedy because I had neglected to continue reading to get the rest of the story!: “But when layoffs, promotions, and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat.” So even though I did not expect the correct genre of show, now you do! (You’re welcome.)
I know this tale is fictional, but the pain is real because I’m sure that every character’s employment storyline happens to someone on a daily basis in this country.
And although the humor in Sweat is so well-written, I could not totally relax and enjoy the comedy aspect of much of it because of the sense of doom that the beginning scenes portend. (Most of the action is a flashback to ten years prior.) And I was correct about that because that humor devolves into even more distress than I had expected.
Sweat is such an important play, so I’m grateful to the Taper for presenting it in Los Angeles. As my friend Nina, with whom I saw the show, so eloquently put it, “I am grateful for the gift of getting to see incredibly professional and beautifully done theater. It’s an honor to be able to experience that kind of quality.”
But I do have to advise that it’s way too long. Twenty to thirty minutes minutes of superfluous dialogue could easily be cut, and that would probably make the production more powerful because no one’s attention would wane, as many audience members have admitted to me that theirs has from time-to-time during this show.
That might be why I was such a fan of the scene transitions, which are done with loud appropriate music and insightful projections. They really help bridge the scenes and are an oasis from the angst. And they totally snapped my attention back to the action each time my mind wandered a bit!
I can see Sweat being made into a movie, and I hope with this same cast because all the acting is spot-on. There’s not a weak actor in the nine-person cast. And I do love some of their personal stories from their program bios. Not only does Mary Mara, a Melissa Leo-type who plays Tracey, have the perfect show business name, but she went to Yale with Lynn Nottage, who wrote this play! I’ve barely had a burger with any of my old classmates! (But perhaps that’s because I did not go to Yale.) And Will Hochman, who plays her son, is my fellow Brooklynite, so of course he’s hip, adorable, and talented!
One of the tiny cuts of life that this story portrays reminded me of something that I’m always amazed about. I can never figure-out just how so many poverty-stricken people can afford all the booze and cigarettes, and even moreso, drugs, that they use to escape their depressing daily lives. (If any of you can explain it, please do, in the Comments section below. I love getting enlightened.)
Shamefully for me, even being the Empath that people always say I am, I’ve rarely given a thought to the plight of factory workers in this country. But this narrative reminded me of a similar-but-white-collar problem that befell a friend of mine several years ago, so I do get it a bit. My pal is a college graduate who spent her entire adult life working for a major financial institution in New York before that industry’s crisis happened. The weekend before the big fall, she told me that she’ll still be all right, as long as the company did not declare bankruptcy. Well, Monday came, and they did just that. She wound-up losing everything. She eventually had to sell her house, and couldn’t even get an apartment anywhere in New York without a job! She was aged-out of every position she applied for, even just being a department store wrapper!!! She had to move to a new state where she had a support system, and was eventually forced to take a job as an “Apparel Associate” (which basically means “stock clerk”) at a clothing/grocery store! (And, to her credit, she’s grateful to have it!) So, I thought of her many times during Sweat. Multiply her stressful situation by millions, and you’ll be aware of what so many go through in this country.
I hope that every Angeleno sees Sweat so that they know to be even more grateful for our lives here. Yes, there are all kinds of not fun jobs in this city, too, as there are everywhere, but, as Nina pointed-out, we have more options than people in say, factory towns across this great country.
This is one time I’m going to leave the deep analysis of a theatre piece to other more erudite critics than myself. I’m just suggesting that everyone in town go see this worthwhile offering.
Sweat running through October 7, 2018
Mark Taper Forum 135 N. Grand Ave. 213-972-4400 www.centertheatregroup.org