SWEAT – Written by Lynn Nottage; Directed by Kenny Moten. Produced by Openstage (Presented at the Lincoln Center, 417 West Magnolia, Fort Collins) through February 10. Tickets available at 970-221-6730 or lctix.com.
I used to have two female friends that I did everything with. How many times did they bail me out financially, when my car ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, when I wondered if my life would ever get any better. (It did!) And how many times did I hold their hands when they were tired and worried about family, cooked meals for all of us, shared my theatre tickets with them, and picked our Friday night movies. The Three Amigos were my constant companions for a long time. One now lives in North Carolina, the other is home in Columbia, and I’m still here in Denver.
So, it was easy for me to recognize the ease and comfort the three friends in this play shared . . . in the beginning. They were more raucous than me and my friends, but there was no shame with these women over getting drunk or shaking your bootie in public or outrageously flirting with the men in and out of Mick’s Bar. The bar where the action takes place. Anything goes and nothing’s gonna harm you. Mick’s is their safe place and Stan, the barman, is their guardian. They all work at a back-breaking factory jobs “on the line” so they need this down time to keep going back to it. They celebrate new boyfriends, getting rid of old husbands, birthdays, promotions . . . . . wait a minute, who got a promotion??
And that’s where the trouble begins. These factory jobs are the only kind of work available to them in the small town in which they live. They all hate it, but they and their families have worked there forever. Equally hard; equally long. A management job comes open and scrambling ensues to “move up,” make a little more money, work in a different way. It is inevitable that when one gets the job over the other, jealousy mounts. Then when lay-offs begin to happen and jobs are lost, it gets worse. Add in drug-addicted husbands, arrogant and angry sons, a union strike, people crossing the picket line and you’ve got a real mess on your hands.
The tension in this situation grows like a tsunami and someone is bound to get hurt. The players in this drama make the situation come alive and shove their frustration in your face. As the three female friends, Ghandia Johnson, Sydney Parks Smith and Samantha Jo Staggs devolve from abandoned joy in each other presence and Friday night fun to hateful and hurtful arguments with insults being hurled across the room. It affects their sons who have grown up together who worked the factory line and now walk the picket line together. Rashad Holland and Kimber Freestone Hoven reflect painful acceptance from one and angry violence from the other. Don Randle gives a touching performance as the addled and sorrowful husband of Cynthia as he fights his addiction. Kevin Reifel as the manager of Mick’s and Miguel Munoz as his immigrant helper try to keep the peace, but they have their work cut out for them. The final player is Chaz Grundy who starts the play as a parole officer asking the questions that bring the whole story out into the open. A more talented group of actors you will not find playing against type. Ghandia generally plays happy comedic roles and Sammy Jo is known for her work as a performer in fun musicals. But these two and the other seven in the cast bring their hard as nails persona to the stage to tell this touching story of forgiveness and growth toward maturity.
A fully equipped bar designed by James Brookman provides the dance floor for this tangled tango. The show’s program shows all 24 people behind the scenes working hard to make everything right for the nine on stage. That includes Director Kenny Moten who is popping up all over the Front Range these days sharing his talent from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs and beyond. All the communities and theatres benefit from his fine touch with everything from musicals to tough dramas like this one. Every performance I’ve seen at Openstage has been well constructed and well performed; Fort Collins is lucky to have a group of this quality in their midst.
A WOW factor of 8.75!!