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Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize “SWEAT” Ignites Goodman Theatre Albert Stage

Dwight Casimere | 3/28/2019, 6 a.m.

Lynn Nottage's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat runs now through April 14 on the Albert stage of the Goodman Theatre in downtown Chicago. Directed by Ron OJ Parson, the play is a must-see dissection of the race and class drama that is currently being played out in the blue-collar "Red" states among the MAGA-hat wearing workers who voted the current administration in the White House. Ironically, the play opened on the night before President Trump visited Ohio, trying to play catch up in a state in the throes of quickly joining the list of places where local factories and industries are shutting down and fleeing to foreign climes where start up costs and labor are cheaper.

The story behind Sweat takes place in the Rust Belt town of Reading, PA between the years 2000 and 2008, between the economic foothold of NAFTA and the great recession. Nottage developed the play after filtering the perspectives she gained through scores of interviews with residents and former factory workers. The artist is further developing her research as a performance piece to be performed in downtown Reading.

Welcome to the no-named linoleum floored bar located near the mythical Olstead's steel tubing plant (based on Reading's real-life Hoffman Industries), with its mix-matched bar stools and equally odd assemblage of misfits, whose fates are intertwined by the impending dislocation of their jobs at the downsizing plant.

The bar is presided over by the morose Stan (Goodman veteran Keith Kupferer, Jeff Nominated Support Group for Men, God of Carnage and Passion Play), a former worker at the plant rendered disabled by a freak accident. He now takes out his bitterness on the odd collection of disgruntled plant workers who are his frequent (and apparently, only) customers. The bar acts as both refuge and support group where its inhabitants air grievances, bemoan personal regrets, and exact revenge on transgressors past and present. Their common enemy is the plant, and when that isn't the topic of derision, they feed upon each other.

At the center of this landlocked ship of fools are three women; Cynthia (a powerhouse Tyla Abercrumbie, last seen in Goodman's Magnolia), an upwardly mobile line worker with aspirations of becoming a supervisor, Tracy (Kirsten Fitzgerald, in her Goodman debut), a brash, big-boned and equally loud-mouthed veteran who isn't afraid to push her weight around, and Jessie (Chaon Cross, also in her Goodman debut), who drowns her sorrows and self-esteem in booze, yet remains loyal to her friends and the trade union, which disappoints them all.

The men, Oscar (Goodman's Pedro Paramo) is of Columbian-descent and works as janitor to the bar. Often misidentified as Puerto Rican, and assumed an immigrant, he was born and raised in Reading. Lack of a union card, no doubt the result of discrimination, is keeping him from his fondest dream of working in the plant. When a union walkout provides him the opportunity to work at least part-time, he is denounced by his friends at the bar and branded a scab. The resulting verbal and physical abuse eventually drives the drama to its inevitable and violent conclusion.