Sweat by Lynn Nottage is the kind of play that provokes conversation in the car all the way home. We fell into conversation about several higher-level topics in the 30-minute drive home from the Umstead Park United Church of Christ in Raleigh, NC; and the conversation continues as we sit to write this review of The Justice Theater Project’s latest production, which continues Feb. 21-23 and Feb. 28-March 1 at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ. Jerry Sipp predicts this phenomenon in his Note from the Director. We suspect it happened with others.
Brooklyn, NY-born African-American playwright Lynn Nottage has won numerous distinguished awards in her career, including OBIE and Drama Critics awards and two Pulitzer Prizes. She writes powerful works. One of the Pulitzers is for Sweat.
Although the play’s events occur in Reading, PA, it could be any factory town in the country. Management attempts to bring in non-local, non-union workers who will accept much less pay than the current employees receive. The current union employees have long been loyal to the company. One of them is promoted to a supervisory position.
Divisions among old friends begin to ripple like cracks on thin ice. The majority of the story takes place in the year 2000 in the bar these workers habituate when they’re not working. Several other scenes flash forward to 2008.
Director Jerry Sipp adeptly builds the story flow, so that we know the camaraderie and good times are rushing to explosion. The bar is their living room and virtually everything happens there. Scenic designer Jeffrey Nugent gives us a place that is accommodating and informal, and its three levels enhance the drama as it creeps in.
Matthew Hager and Brandonn Odom, as Jason and Chris, open the story as each meets Ivan (Juan Isler), their parole officer. Solid performances come from all three.
John Honeycutt does a great job of being the wise, gentle but also tough-as-nails bartender, Stan. Honeycutt gives us a man who understands the whole culture of the factory worker, having been one before an injury put him on disability.
Oscar (Efrain Valencia Santillan) is a Latino janitor, who is mostly ignored by the patrons, as he takes out trash and cleans up after them. Santillan gives a fine performance, in which we understand his awareness of the atmosphere that he works in.
Andrea Amthor Twiss plays Tracy, an angry solo-parent mother and union member who has dedicated her whole life to the company, having been “on the floor” for her entire work career. Her rage pulls the audience into her despair.
Cynthia is played by J. Ra’Chel Fowler, who catches for us the treacherous line between management and labor that her character must walk. Kelly Caniglia plays Jessie, a lovable drunk; and Gerald Louis Campbell counters her with Brucie, a very unlovable junkie-drunk. Kudos to both for fine performances.
During intermission for all performances, JTP presents a short info-moment for their Advocate Spotlight Nonprofit Partners on Stage program. This is an opportunity to learn something about the various organizations that work for Social Justice in the North Carolina.
SECOND OPINION: Feb 15th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9729.
The Justice Theater Project presents SWEAT at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and 22, 3:30 p.m. Feb. 23, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, and 3:30 p.m. March 1 at the Umstead Park United Church of Christ, 8208 Brownleigh Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27617.
TICKETS: $23 ($5 students and educators and $20 seniors and active-duty military personnel), except $18 per person for groups of 10 or more.
2019-20 SEASON: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/201920-season.
NOTE 1: There will be preshow discussions and various other events before various performances. Click here and scroll down for details.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 1st, performance.
Sweat (2015 Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2016 Off-Broadway, and 2017 Broadway play): http://www.tcg.org/Default.aspx?TabID=251&productId=6314039 (Theatre Communications Group), http://www.iobdb.com/Production/6226 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/sweat-512126 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweat_(play) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Lynn Nottage (Brooklyn, NY-born African-American playwright): http://www.lynnnottage.com/ (official website), http://www.iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/3672 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lynn-nottage-483794 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Nottage (Wikipedia).
Jerry Sipp (Hillsborough, NC director): http://jerrysipp.com/index.html (official website), http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/335415-jerry-sipp (AboutTheArtists bio), and https://www.facebook.com/jerry.sipp (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.