Rust Belt Realism: 5 reasons to see Wright State’s dramatic ‘Sweat’

left to right: Zavi Odetta (Cynthia), Jacob Jones (Stan), Thomas Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris) in Wright State University's production of "Sweat." PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

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left to right: Zavi Odetta (Cynthia), Jacob Jones (Stan), Thomas Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris) in Wright State University's production of "Sweat." PHOTO COURTESY OF WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Tony-nominated and Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary drama “Sweat” currently receives an excellent area premiere in the Festival Playhouse of Wright State University’s Creative Arts Center through Feb. 20.

Set in 2000 and 2008 in Reading, Pennsylvania, the timely play concerns industrial workers facing the end of their livelihoods as their factory jobs disappear. Issues of race, class and immigration collide as friendships are tested with life-changing repercussions.

Sharply directed with volatile, tinderbox sensibilities by New York-based Wright State acting alumnus Shaun Patrick Tubbs, here are five reasons why you should see this first-rate production featuring an impressively authentic cast.

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L to R: Jacob Jones, Marcus Antonio, Tommy Cole, Madyson McCabe, Elaine Mueller, and Zavi Odetta in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

L to R: Jacob Jones, Marcus Antonio, Tommy Cole, Madyson McCabe, Elaine Mueller, and Zavi Odetta in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

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L to R: Jacob Jones, Marcus Antonio, Tommy Cole, Madyson McCabe, Elaine Mueller, and Zavi Odetta in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

A STORY THAT HITS CLOSE TO HOME

The stinging catalyst of “Sweat” is the loss of manufacturing jobs, a familiar, ongoing theme in the Gem City. Since 1980, Dayton has reportedly lost 15,000 manufacturing jobs at major companies such as NCR, Delphi and General Motors. In particular, last fall, Tenneco, one of the largest employers in Kettering, announced it would close its plant in 2023, sending nearly 650 jobs to China and Mexico. With unapologetic realism, Nottage turns back the clock to expose the seismic shift within America’s working class from long-term security to startling vulnerability. And for added relevancy, digest this eerie news tidbit overheard in Act 2: “October 26, 2000; In the news: After yet another gun incident at a school, Attorney General Janet Reno reassures the public that ‘American schools are safe places.’” Over 20 years later, Nottage subtly reminds us there is still so much work to be done in this country from the factory floor to the schoolyard.

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RELATABLE CHARACTERS AT WAR WITH EACH OTHER

Nottage’s relatable, down-to-earth characters are so vividly drawn they could be your family, friends or neighbors. In the play, veteran factory workers Tracey (Mady McCabe), Cynthia (Zavi Odetta) and Jessie (Elaine Mueller) savor quality time to relax and rewind after work at a local dive overseen by bartender Stan (Jacob Jones). Tracey’s son Jason (Thomas Cole), Cynthia’s son Chris (Marcus Antonio), Stan’s faithful employee Oscar (Andres Martinez), Chris’ addict father Brucie (Daniel Duncan-Bevans) and parole officer Evan (Remah Nyumah) factor into heated emotions as well. “‘Sweat’ talks about people who don’t often get a voice,” said Tubbs, in a release. “Those are the ones who tend to be affected most by the world around them. Often the choices we make are for survival, not because we want them. But it’s because we feel they are our only choice. The truth of the matter is, until you’ve had everything you know taken away, you don’t know what choice you would make. And that’s what they’re going through in this play.”

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Thomas Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris, rear) appear in Wright State University's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Thomas Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris, rear) appear in Wright State University's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

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Thomas Cole (Jason) and Marcus Antonio (Chris, rear) appear in Wright State University's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

THOMAS COLE AS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HIM BEFORE

Seven months ago, at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville, Thomas Cole was the epitome of chipper, clean-cut optimism as aspiring writer Billy Cane in the local premiere of Steve Martin’s bluegrass musical “Bright Star,” one of the best shows of 2021. Five months ago, at Wright State, he portrayed a bubbly Bellhop in Ken Ludwig’s funny farce “Lend Me a Tenor.” Here, in a truly remarkable departure, he fully ignites in his grittiest and most complex role to date as the troubled, addicted, fiery, vulgar, tattooed Jason, a product of generational territorialism unable to leave Reading behind for the promise of a better future on a rig in the Gulf.

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Mady McCabe (Tracey) and Zavi Odetta (Cynthia, rear) are featured in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Mady McCabe (Tracey) and Zavi Odetta (Cynthia, rear) are featured in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

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Mady McCabe (Tracey) and Zavi Odetta (Cynthia, rear) are featured in Wright State's production of "Sweat."

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE

MADY MCCABE DISPLAYING MATURITY BEYOND HER YEARS

Mady McCabe’s portrayal of eccentric drama instructor Marty in Wright State’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” was a highlight last fall, and her return to the stage radiates with mature, lived-in finesse. As feisty Tracey, clinging with her all her might to the comfortable confines of personal history, McCabe is a perturbed firecracker, particularly late in Act 1 opposite the quietly understated Martinez. She superbly delivers the following lines which defines the play’s territorial tug-of-war: “And that’s how it works. Anyway. You gotta know somebody to get in. My dad worked there, I work there, and my son works there. It’s that kinda shop. Always been.”

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WISE WORDS FROM BEHIND THE BAR

Jacob Jones’ engaging portrayal of Stan, a keen observer with great insights, grounds the play as a representation of the good old days that will never be seen again. Late in Act 2 opposite Cole and Antonio, Jones brings earnest passion to Stan’s pleas for change, hoping his wise counsel doesn’t fall on deaf ears: “Sometimes I think we forget that we’re meant to pick up and go when the well runs dry. Our ancestors knew that. You stay put for too long, you get weighed down by things, thing you don’t need. It’s true. Then your life becomes this pathetic accumulation of stuff. Emotional and physical junk. You gotta ask yourself what you’re hanging on to, huh?... Nostalgia’s a disease. I’m not gonna be one of those guys that surrenders to it. What do you get?”

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Wright State acting alumnus Shaun Tubbs directs "Sweat," slated Feb. 10-20.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Wright State acting alumnus Shaun Tubbs directs "Sweat," slated Feb. 10-20.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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Wright State acting alumnus Shaun Tubbs directs "Sweat," slated Feb. 10-20.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

HOW TO GO

What: “Sweat”

Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glen Hwy., Dayton.

When: Through Feb. 20; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: 937-775-2500 or wright.edu/tdmp

FYI: Patrons are advised the show contains strong language and depictions of violence. Patrons are also required to wear masks.

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