“In 2000, the United States had not felt the full pain of NAFTA and its crippling of the blue collar workforce. We had yet to experience the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the dot com bust, a housing market implosion and an ensuing, not coincidental spike in opioid addiction that followed these events.
By 2008, we had waved goodbye to Clinton’s budget surpluses, years of relative international peace and the promise of economic stability for those willing to work hard and pay their union dues. The methodical union busting that swept through American industries following NAFTA’s passage drives much of the action in Ms. Nottage’s electric script.
Veteran Ron OJ Parsons returns to direct Goodman Theatre’s rendering of Sweat. The story examines the lives of two generations of friends in a Pennsylvanian Rust Belt town just before, during and after everything about the community’s economic rubric changes. Where generations of residents once moved from high school graduation to factory floor, guaranteeing good wages, a pension and ability to provide for their families, NATFA demanded the acceptance of a new paradigm. Relocated production and the undercutting of worker bargaining which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II became the new normal. Opportunities and bank accounts shrank while the temptation to scapegoat “others” (typically immigrants and Americans with brown skin) proved irresistible.”
“The script from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage (2009’s Ruined and 2017’s Sweat) also leaves open the distinct and tantalizing possibility that his wife’s ghost isn’t the only spirit Godfrey is fleeing. Lily, sister of the deceased, makes a reappearance on the relocated Crump doorstep that leaves everyone breathless. Loud, unabashed and full-on woke, in an era when Jim Crow laws and separate-but-equal instructed African-Americans to “know their place,” Lily is unafraid to take up space and speak her mind. For the damaged Crump family, this is both enticing and threatening.
The unvoiced dialogue between Godfrey and Lily is suggestive of a more complicated and intertwined past between the two. Their immediate and still-palpable chemistry sends Godfrey fleeing in yet another direction — right into the chaste arms of Gerte (Emily Tate), a recent white, German immigrant that Godfrey meets on the subway. Charmed by her submissiveness and willingness to follow the teachings of the never-seen Father Devine, Godfrey impulsively marries Gerte and installs her in his crowded and emotionally charged Brooklyn basement flat.
Within the cramped rooms of the Crump apartment, religious, racial and sexual tensions flare as Ernestine prepares to graduate high school and transition to adulthood. While all of the cast members acquit themselves well and present the audience with a complicated and authentic slice of Eisenhower-era Americana, it is Ms. Buckley who completely commands our rapt attention.”