Paramount inaugurates Copley series with a scorching revival of the ever-timely 'Sweat'

  • Linda Gillum, left, and Shariba Rivers, right, play longtime friends and co-workers whose middle-class lives are imperiled when the factory where they work initiates cutbacks in "Sweat," Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama in a revival at the Copley Theatre in Aurora. Randy Steinmeyer plays the bartender, Stan in director Andrea J. Dymond's revival.

    Linda Gillum, left, and Shariba Rivers, right, play longtime friends and co-workers whose middle-class lives are imperiled when the factory where they work initiates cutbacks in "Sweat," Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama in a revival at the Copley Theatre in Aurora. Randy Steinmeyer plays the bartender, Stan in director Andrea J. Dymond's revival. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

 
 
Updated 3/24/2022 7:50 AM

"Sweat" - ★ ★ ★ ★

If director Andrea J. Dymond's scorching revival of "Sweat" that inaugurated Paramount Theatre's Bold Series at the newly remodeled Copley Theatre is any indication of productions to come, audiences are in for a treat.

 

An alternative to Paramount's 1,800+ seat main theater, the Copley showcases contemporary works edgier than what Broadway series audiences have come to expect. Its 165-seat capacity makes this space ideal for Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about union workers living in a fading Rust Belt town confronting the hard reality of wage cuts, shrinking benefits and outsourced jobs.

Busboy Oscar (Jordan Anthony Arredondo), left, confronts union worker Tracey (Linda Gillum) in "Sweat." Lynn Nottage's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the impact of factory shutdowns on the residents of a town in America's Rust Belt runs through April 24, at the Copley Theatre in Aurora.
Busboy Oscar (Jordan Anthony Arredondo), left, confronts union worker Tracey (Linda Gillum) in "Sweat." Lynn Nottage's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the impact of factory shutdowns on the residents of a town in America's Rust Belt runs through April 24, at the Copley Theatre in Aurora. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

A sobering examination of economic insecurity and the diminished self-worth, curtailed opportunities and shattered friendships that accompany it, Nottage's insightful, wonderfully written play packs a wallop in this intimate space where we experience up close and personal the financial and emotional spiral these factory workers endure when their reliable, well-paying jobs begin to disappear.

The action unfolds in a blue collar, Pennsylvania bar and favorite watering hole for longtime friends and co-workers: Cynthia (a strong, purposeful Shariba Rivers), who aspires to move from the factory floor to the management ranks; her son Chris (Emmanuel K. Jackson), who's saving for college while working alongside his mother; Cynthia's best friend Tracey (the frighteningly visceral Linda Gillum); her son Jason (Gage Wallace), Chris' friend and co-worker; Jessie (Tiffany Bedewell), Cynthia and Tracey's functioning alcoholic friend; and Cynthia's ex-husband Brucie (Joshua L. Green), who's been locked out of his factory job for nearly two years.

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Factory foreperson Cynthia (Shariba Rivers), left, breaks bad news to her son Chris (Emmanuel K. Jackson), third from left, and co-workers Jason (Gage Wallace), third from right; Tracey (Linda Gillum), second from right, and Jessie (Tiffany Bedwell), right, while bartender Stan (Randy Steinmeyer), second from left, looks on in the Copley Theatre's revival of "Sweat, Lynn Nottage's drama about American dreams expiring in the rust belt.
Factory foreperson Cynthia (Shariba Rivers), left, breaks bad news to her son Chris (Emmanuel K. Jackson), third from left, and co-workers Jason (Gage Wallace), third from right; Tracey (Linda Gillum), second from right, and Jessie (Tiffany Bedwell), right, while bartender Stan (Randy Steinmeyer), second from left, looks on in the Copley Theatre's revival of "Sweat, Lynn Nottage's drama about American dreams expiring in the rust belt. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Observing from the sidelines of set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec's worn-out tavern with its mismatched bar stools, ancient jukebox and a forgotten strand of holiday lights is bartender and resident sage Stan (Randy Steinmeyer), a third-generation union man sidelined by a work injury. Nearby is hardworking, Colombian-American busboy Oscar (Jordan Anthony Arredondo) who restocks the bar and scrapes chewing gum from underneath the tables.

The play opens in 2008 with Chris and Jason meeting individually with parole officer Evan (Bryant Hayes). It then flashes back to 2000, where cutbacks are rumored and change is imminent, beginning with Cynthia's long-coveted promotion. But the celebration is short-lived. Subsequent cutbacks, stalled labor negotiations and a lockout set Cynthia against her friends and family. Relationships fracture and tempers rise, sparking a violent confrontation that results in tragedy.

Dymond masterfully manages the tension between these characters and her staging illustrates their increasing estrangement -- a reflection of an us-against-them and later an everyone-for-himself/herself attitude.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Emmanuel K. Jackson, standing, plays Chris, and Joshua L. Green, right, plays his father Brucie, in Copley Theatre's revival of "Sweat," Lynn Nottage's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about union workers in the rust belt watching their American dream slip through their fingers.
Emmanuel K. Jackson, standing, plays Chris, and Joshua L. Green, right, plays his father Brucie, in Copley Theatre's revival of "Sweat," Lynn Nottage's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about union workers in the rust belt watching their American dream slip through their fingers. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

The cast -- made up mostly of Chicago veterans new to Paramount -- is superb. The acting is impassioned and credible. Wallace and Jackson impress, the former as a rage-filled young man unable to right his life's course and the latter as a 20-something who knows better yet still succumbs to frustration and desperation.

"A couple of minutes and your whole life changes," observes Chris. "That's it. It's gone."

A sad reminder of the consequences of bad choices that accompany hard times.

• • •

Location: Copley Theatre, 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666, paramountaurora.com

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, through April 24

Running time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $67-$74

Parking: Limited street parking, paid lots nearby

Rating: For teens and older, contains strong language and some violence

COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test no longer required. Masks strongly encouraged

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