READING – Written by author Lynn Nottage and set in Reading, PA – also home of production company Genesius Theatre – audiences will likely relate to “Sweat,” set to be performed Jan. 31 through Feb. 8, in a unique way.
The 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winner full of warmth, humor and heart tells the story of a group of friends who work together on the factory floor, that is until layoffs start and begin to chip away at their trust and they find themselves pitted against each other, fighting to stay afloat. Says the New York Times, “Keenly observed and often surprisingly funny — but ultimately heartbreaking — the work traces the roots of a tragedy with both forensic psychological detail and embracing compassion. Ms. Nottage…is writing at the peak of her powers…”
Director Ellen “Dash” Walter, a Wyomissing native who began her Genesius career in 1974 as an usher for Canterbury Tales, just as the company made its move to 10th and Walnut streets, says Sweat, ironically set in Reading, PA during an age of decline – 2000 to 2008 – sees the characters in a “survival of the fittest” mode as the factory layoffs begin.
Walter carries more than enough experience to direct what’s sure to be a masterful production, having earned her BFA degree in theatre/directing from Syracuse University and holding a MA in theatre from Villanova University with a focus on Directing, Dramaturgy and New Play Development. She has experience working on Broadway as an Assistant to Director/Producer Harold Prince for Grind, Play Memory, and End of the World; Assistant to Director/Librettist Alan Jay Lerner for Dance a Little Closer; and Assistant to Composer/Producer Charles Strouse for Rags. She’s been a member of the Board of Advisors for Genesius since 2017.
As director, she says, “I am inspired by the lines presented in the play, both vertical and horizontal and both literal and imagined. The play includes three scenes in the present (2008), two of which feature the two sons of Tracey and Cynthia talking with their parole officer soon after being released from prison, hence the image of vertical bars comes into play.
The cinematic presentation of the ‘split screen’ in the 2008 scenes furthers the symbolic division between characters.
Throughout the flashback to eight years earlier, which constitutes most of the play, the characters become more and more imprisoned by their shame and resulting rage. Almost all of the characters in the play have worked at Olstead’s, a steel pipe mill, which again evokes steel bars like those in prison. The union workers have been turned out and now ‘walk the line’ in solidarity against the mill bosses, unwilling to make concessions involving lower wages and other losses.”
James Barksdale, who plays Chris, says his character is a book-smart kid who got mixed up in a terrible situation that changed the rest of his life.
Explains Barksdale, “I enjoy that I can bring my knowledge as Reading native to this character and make him a little more relatable for the audience.”
Amy Young, playing the character of Cynthia and a member of Genesius for 25 years now, says Sweat will appeal to anyone who has been a loyal employee and has had the rug pulled out from under them. She believes Sweat is a production with many layers and that it will take the audience on a trip down memory lane, being based locally.
Cast members also include Dan Smith as Stan, Reggie Brown as Brucie, Kimmie Fetters as Jessie, Daniel Graf as Jason, Jose Galarza as Oscar, Christine Cieplinski as Tracy and Deshaun Williams as Evan. L J Fecho, the Producing Artistic Director of Genesius is also the producer for the production. Andrea Keck is stage manager, while Spencer Fecho is set designer.
Show dates are Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 5, 6, 7, 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 2 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $17.50 to $33.50.
Sweat is rated PG 17 for Strong Language and Mild Violence.
For tickets and additional information, visit www.genesiusdifference.org.
Genesius is a 501-C-3 Non-profit organization. The theatre is located at 153 N. 10th St., Reading, PA, and is handicapped accessible. Free parking is available (limited spaces available) next to the theatre. For more info call the theatre at 610-371-8151.