Jason Heil, Hannah Logan and Judy Bauerlein in "Sweat." Photo by Jim Carmody
Emotions run red-hot in Lynn Nottage’s deservedly Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat. Plant workers in oppressed Reading, Pa. who are already surviving paycheck to paycheck face the loss of their jobs and identities as the company looks to Mexico for cheaper labor. When one of them, African-American Cynthia (Monique Gaffney), attains a management position, her white friends feel betrayed, and racial tension further roils the emotions.
San Diego Repertory Theatre’s production of Sweat, directed by Sam Woodhouse, is fiery and formidable, an impeccably acted two-plus hours that never relents in intensity. Besides Gaffney, the stellar cast includes Judy Bauerlein and Hannah Logan as Cynthia’s angry and rapidly deteriorating “ex friends,” Cortez Johnson as her conflicted son Chris, and Steve Froehlich as the truly frightening Jason, who will become a white supremacist. The play shifts between the year 2000 and eight years later, when ex-cons Chris and Jason are seen with a parole officer (Antonio T.J. Johnson). For a work that travels not only through time but along the sharp edges of social and political spectra, Sweat is masterfully grounded in stark human tragedies. This is one not to miss.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 5/1/19.)
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David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.