Thursday, May 12, 2022

No Sweat for ACT Theatre - Best Show in Town

A moment from Sweat (Truman Buffett)
ACT Theatre
Through May 22, 2022
It contains the sweat of people’s brows and their efforts standing for a dozen hours a day or more on a factory line. And the sweat of the swelter of the factory workers in warehouse-level heat without air conditioning. Also the sweat of walking a union strike line and the sweat about paying bills on low salaries or on walk-out stipends.
It includes the sweat of a worker being promoted to management and what they fear about giving orders to previously same-level friends and workers. There is the sweat, as well, of a drug-addicted soul shaking for the next fix, or their sweat as they beg friends and family for another drink or smoke. There’s also the sweat of rage that can cause blind reactions that change lives in seconds, with tragic results.
All of this sweat is in Lynn Nottage’s excellent script, Sweat, now on stage at ACT Theatre. It also has the worthy sweat of the excellent ensemble of actors ready breathe life into the words on a page, transforming into the way it’s meant to be absorbed – on stage.
Sometimes, plays in the round in the dedicated circle of the Allen Theatre at ACT struggle to “fit” into a very challenging stage environment. ACT often does it well, but even so, it strains to be a good way to perform many works, and a lot of very awkward facing of different directions is needed to make sure the whole audience is served by the actors’ faces and not just their backs. But director John Langs’ Sweat makes full appropriate use of this format.
Every major character in this play has known every other major character for years and years. Three best friend women (the compelling trio of Tracy Michelle Hughes, Anne Allgood, and the heartbreaking Sara Waisanen) have stood up in each others’ weddings, gone on vacation together, had children (TrĂ© Scott and Cap Petersen) who have grown up together, gone to the same bar with the regularity of a “where else would I be” after-work hang-out spot. The bartender (Shawn Belyea) used to be on the same factory line until injured on the job. But sometimes life changes you or your circumstances so much that you just can’t be friends anymore.
Union solidarity and union busting are primary themes here, where corporate bigwigs are determined to drain every drop of profit from the surrounding factories and most of the workers in this factory town are one strike or had been recently. Reginald AndrĂ© Jackson is the ex-husband of Hughes, father of Scott, and so rundown and damaged from the lack of union progress that he’s become an alcoholic drug abuser, almost too strung out to live.
When Hughes’ character Cynthia get promoted to management, but immediately has to help corporate honchos shut the doors on her friends, it’s a terrible dilemma. Allgood’s character, Tracey, gets jealous and enraged, and … racist toward her former best friend. Tracey also feels completely at ease being casually racist toward the bar back (Miguel Castellano) who is Latino, alternatively dismissing his capacity to do better jobs than bar backing, and enraged when he steps in as a scab to work at the factory job she’s been shut out of.
But Nottage doesn’t start there. She starts years after a tragedy caused the two young sons to be arrested and jailed and then getting out and bumping into each other again in an uneasy reunion. An exasperated but compassionate parole officer (Anthony Leroy Fuller) for both of them tries to help them get used to “outside” again, but we really don’t know why, yet. It takes going back in time and letting that story unfold and a bit of patience to keep questions in your mind, but let it flow over you anyway.
By the end, it’s all devastatingly clear, and the last moment of the play might leave you breathless, as it left me, even though I’d read the script and knew what was to happen. This is top-notch theater-ing. Likely the best or one of the best productions of 2022, without question.
The technical aspects were similarly excellent, with the awesome talents of L.B. Morse back with his excellent stagecraft and lighting, and a gorgeous sound design by Sharath Patel. And the script gives you moments to laugh, and relax, which is part of the brilliance of Nottage’s writing abilities.
Get a few friends together and go see this! Plan on drinks after, because there’s a lot to unpack here.
Go to for tickets, or call 206-292-7676.

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