Annie Russel Theater at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL
by Carl F. Gauze
By the year 2000, the rust belt jobs were no longer peak of the lobor pile, and the American Dream had flaked into a a small pile of iron oxide. Corporation saw cheaper labor in Mexico while the union workers still saw their jobs as entitlements to be passed down generation to generation. The main crisis tonight is the unexpected shuttering of a pipe factory that buoyed a small town for the last 80 years. As the union fought for better wages and working conditions, the company started removing machines and shipping them south. Jason (Sawyer) and Chris (Shields) form an unlikely inter-racial pair; they are the sons of union employees but not quite in the union yet. Jason’s mom Tracey (Riley Eileen) is the union representative, while Chris’ Mom Cynthia (Ani Henry-Walker) made that tough jump to air conditioned token management. Now she’s hated by her old union friends and they see her as a sellout; yet she never socialized her way in the older white management clique. When immigrant Oscar (Juan Cabera) takes a non-union gig with the company, Jason and Chris beat him nearly to death and end up in jail, complete with racist tats on their face. There may be redemption in Pennsylvania, but there’s no more work.
Sweat brings out the worst “isms” in all of us: racisms, alcoholism, and an over optimistic faith that the future will be like the past, but with better work rules. Sawyer’s Jason is especially violent, when he’s beating poor Oscar you fear for Oscar in real life. The triad of Tracey, Cynthia and Jessie starts as a tight knit girl band, but they are split asunder by alcohol, opportunity and an inability to adjust to a new lifestyle. Tragedy abounds, with barkeep Stan (Colin Flaumenhaft) perhaps the saddest of all. A shop injury left him crippled but able to tend bar, only to suffer a beat down by his old customers.
All the action is set in a bar, the type I grew up in and around in another, nearly identical Midwestern rust heap. The set is well designed and effective, although for a show set in Pennsylvania circa 2000 there were way too many Milwaukee-brand beer signs on the wall. I saw no trace of of Narragansett or Iron City. But that’s a nit for brew purists like myself, not a mark against the cast of production. The cushy union jobs, the company funded pensions, and decent health insurance in manufacturing are long gone, and we’ve lost anything resembling the mid-level trade unions. Its every employee for themselves, and pensions be dammed. This tight and tense production captures our separation from our parents’ stable jobs and the modern gig market of “Have internet, will travel.”