Sweat (224986)

At the Public Theater Lynn Nottage’s drama, “Sweat,” directed by Kate Whoriskey, echoes some of the themes of this past presidential election season. In a post-industrial city, such as Reading, Pa., friends and coworkers bond, but years later as jobs shrink and the factory closes, they become distant and bitter. Racism destroys the remnant of their relationships. Sons end up in prison and parents eke out a living in minimum-wage jobs.

The opening scene of this riveting drama presents two young men recently released from prison. One is white and the other is Black. Both are having difficulties reentering society after eight years behind bars. Chris (Khris Davis) and Jason (Will Pullen) provide the smoldering anger and aggression they experience as youthful assailants with once promising futures at the factory.

In several flashback scenes to eight years earlier, this group of friends who work together at the factory include Chris’ and Jason’s mothers. Michelle Wilson delivers a robust layered portrayal of Cynthia, Chris’ mother, who earns a promotion at the factory months before it downsizes and eventually closes. Her successful move to corporate management creates a widening divide between her and her white coworker, Tracey, here brilliantly portrayed by Johanna Day. Soon Tracey is hurling racist bombs in her former friend’s direction, and their white friends sit quiet in a slowly deteriorating community.

Her friends and their sons suffer through lockouts, the hiring of scabs and permanent loss of their jobs as the corporation chooses to move manufacturing to Mexico to pay lower wages. The scabs who work during the lockout suffer through the worst of indignities as violent racism also erupts in their local bar. Sadly, it is the mediator among this group who suffers the most damage in this attack on the only Latino person in a minor role in this play.

James Colby is a striking influence as the friendly white bartender, who argues against racist sentiments as Tracey begins to spread her angry vitriol and her son responds to her violent tirades. Lance Coade is Evan, their parole officer and Carlo Alban is Oscar, the barkeep who is Latino and becomes the most hated subject once the corporation posts public notices written in Spanish seeking replacement workers. Jessie Jelks plays Chris’ father and Miriam Shor is Jessie, the third partner in this trio of factory friends.

Nottage has a talent for crafting realistic dialogue that defines real characters and builds to a slow climax.

“Sweat” continues to play at the Public Theater. It is timely and well-worth seeing.