/‘Sweat’ Gritty portrait of working-class families struggling to hold on to middle-class values opens at New Stage Theatre

‘Sweat’ Gritty portrait of working-class families struggling to hold on to middle-class values opens at New Stage Theatre

“Sweat” will continue at New Stage through May 5. Lynn Nottage, a playwright, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize (her 2nd) for “Sweat,” a vivid look at a city during the “deindustrial revolution” with humor, heart, passion, and riveting drama. Nottage visited Reading in order to research the story. She spent two years there, meeting people and local groups, and learning about the town’s rich past, its transformation, and its future. Nottage was recently listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. “Sweat,” the second-most-produced play in the 2018-19 American theater season, was also ranked. “Sweat” takes place in 2000 Reading and 2008 Reading. It features the parole release of two young men (one white, one black) and flashbacks that examine the issues that led to their crimes. The end of Rust Belt manufacturing brought poverty to the region and tensions grew. The majority of “Sweat” is performed in a tavern. This is where factory floor workers share laughs, stories, and drinks. Layoffs and picket lines destroy their trust and pit them against one another as they struggle to stay afloat. Sharon Miles played Cynthia in the play. She was there when her father’s Bryan Foods plant closed down. It shook the whole community. She says, “I believe there’s something to say in this play about restructuring the middle class or the decline of middle class.” “Even now we talk about certain job that will never return” — jobs that provided a comfortable lifestyle for many, despite being difficult. She says, “This opened up new sensitivity for those conversations.” Film director Francine Thomas Reynolds (as Tracey, a factory worker) felt similar reverberations. This was in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula iron ore mining and in Miami, Oklahoma’s “American Graffiti-like hustle.” Reynolds said that it was similar to the situation in which people lived through strikes, walkouts and threats to their jobs as well as negotiations, during the boom-bust cycle of iron ore manufacturing. Robinson states that depression struck the small, cool town she grew up in when the Goodrich Plant in Miami closed. It’s a familiar culture at “Sweat,” where high-school friends worked together on the line and gathered at the Tavern for decades. “It is their life, their clique, and their family,” Ward Emling as Sam the bartender says about their characters’ deep involvement in Reading, where their grandfathers and fathers built the town and worked at the mill. Reynolds says that the play is a lot about the consequences of things changing. When the American Dream for generations is different from the one before it, Reynolds says. “Is America’s Dream still possible? If so, who can access it?” Who is entitled to it? How can we get to a place where we are so divided? “How did we get into this situation where we are blaming other people for actions that weren’t their fault?” larger entities, such as corporations and politics, control the situation leaving individuals disillusioned and lost. Emling states that profit is more important than people. He shares a key line from “Sweat”: “They don’t understand that human dignity is the core of all things.” Robinson comments on “Sweat,” which depicts real-life friendships and real-life relationships. “Sweat” addresses many current hot topics, including racism, immigration and opioid addiction. Reynolds said that “it’s almost like a microcosm of the whole country.” Emling states that “the ties that used bind us began to unravel” and that as times get harder, the search for scapegoats continues. Reynolds believes that audiences may feel a vague sense nostalgia due to their own experience and perspectives. While it may have appeared simpler in the past, many people were denied opportunities. “Everyone needs to have access the American Dream. There’s not enough. “Everybody must come to terms with that.” What’s next? Emling states, “I believe there’s hope.” And, possibility. For those 16 years and over, “Sweat” should be recommended. Some may find the characters’ dialect too strong and coarse. Emling says, “It’s not network television.” It’s cable. “Sweat” continues through May 5, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets for $30 adults/$25 seniors/students are available at the box office, newstagetheatre.com or 601-948-3530._x000D