ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
“Sweat” Delivers Reality on a Warehouse Makeshift Stage
There are times when a twist of fate becomes a stroke of luck, and it has happened at The Warehouse Performing Arts Center. Sweat, a powerful drama originally scheduled to open in April 2020, became a reality last weekend, presented by a remarkable cast. This striking production was so intense, at times I found myself losing focus on the story, mesmerized by the astonishing performances.
Most of the original cast and the director were replaced. Three of the area’s best-known actors remained: Marla Brown, Dominic Weaver, and Becca Worthington. Original director Ron McClelland joined the new cast as Evan, the strong but sympathetic Parole Officer, and was replaced by Michael Connor. A playwright, professor, actor, and director, Connor wove five other actors into the fold, creating such seamless synergy among the players that not a single one shone alone.
The storyline in Sweat is timely. Although the play concentrates on years between 2000 and 2008, it screams of headlines seen today—the age-old racial conflict. In the small town of Reading, Pennsylvania, a microcosm of Anywhere, USA, Black and white friends live in relative harmony, raising families while working at the same steel factory. They relax and party at the same bar, where they bemoan their woes, dance, argue, laugh, and tell naughty stories. And sometimes, just get drunk. Colorful language flows. Deftly limping, Matt Webster delivers a heartwarming performance as Stan, the friendly bartender whom everyone trusts and loves.
Three women traditionally celebrate their birthdays at the bar: Marla Brown as Tracey, a bitter, outspoken white widow; Tanya McClellan as Cynthia, a Black, ambitious, estranged wife; and Becca Worthington as Jessie, who staggers from a problem with alcohol. Their emotional portrayals are stirring—strong and stimulating.
Tracey and Cynthia’s sons are respectively Maxwell Gregor as Jason, who sports white supremacist facial tattoos when the play opens in the lounge of a parole office, and Drue Alle as Chris, who, ashamed to be a felon, is anxious to reintegrate into society. They bristle. Otherwise, the two are a jostling pair of carefree dudes. Throughout Sweat’s constantly changing scenes, their portrayals are spot on.
Dominic Weaver as Cynthia’s estranged husband, Brucie, is no stranger to the Warehouse stage. His roles span from zombie, butler, waiter, and explorer to seductive lover. This time Weaver credibly delivers the character of an unintelligible, wasted, drug addict. His portrayal is chilling.
An overhead television screen conveys the political and socioeconomic passage of time through a series of network news clips that relate to Sweat’s storyline. As the country is making a conscious effort to elevate the position of Blacks in the workplace,
Cynthia is promoted to Warehouse Supervisor, a job Tracey has been striving to attain for years. Anger rises. Resentment flares. Conflict and tragedy ensue.
Meanwhile, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the USA comes into play. Justin Thomas as Oscar, the bartenders’ tireless assistant who frequents the Latino Community Center, learns that to prevent jobs from flowing to Mexico, the factory will hire Hispanics at a higher wage than he earns at the bar. Furthermore, factory layoffs and salary reductions are rumored, and, eventually, workers are locked out. Enticed by the money, Oscar crosses the line and is denounced a rat and a scab. In a sudden attempt to prevent his departure, an alarming fight erupts. Characters fall and the stage goes black. Stunned, the audience can barely breathe.
Lynn Nottage won a second Pulitzer Prize in Drama as the author of Sweat. Andrea Santos developed a creative scenic design for The Warehouse’s makeshift theatre, enhanced by Sean Kimbro’s brilliant lighting design. Although Marla Brown, the company’s manager-artistic director had to close The Warehouse PAC’s black-box venue on Westmoreland Road, she’s “proud to bring this show to life.” It’s worthwhile. Every performance played to a roaring standing ovation!
The Warehouse needs a new home. Powerful shows like Sweat have become their forté. There are plenty of musicals and comedies around the Lake and down in Charlotte too. Nevertheless, there is an audience always hungry to see The Warehouse’s theatrical fare.
Connie Fisher, neé Consuelo Carmona, is a Davidson resident who grew up in Mexico City where she became a journalist and acquired a taste for the theatre. Her preference for work behind the scenes, led to an interest in writing reviews—Yale Rep among her favorite troupes. Connie is the author of Doing it the Right Way, the biography of an Italian hatmaker. Her prose appears with 87 other international writers in The Widows’ Handbook. An active member of Charlotte Writers’ Club North, currently she is writing chapters of memoir and continues to review theatre in the Lake Norman area.