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Paul Herbert and Jenn Grif­fin Pe­dro Meza

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - Pho­to­graph:

dSWEAT, WHICH WON the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama, gets top marks for rel­e­vance. But Lynn Not­tage’s ex­am­i­na­tion of work­ing-class dis­en­fran­chise­ment in Mid­dle Amer­ica is only in­ter­mit­tently dra­matic.

The play is set in Read­ing, Penn­syl­va­nia, one of the poor­est cities in the U.S. The ac­tion be­gins in 2008, as a pa­role of­fi­cer con­ducts backto-back in­ter­views with two men who’ve re­cently been re­leased from prison: Ja­son, a white guy with a swastika tat­tooed on his neck, and Chris, a black man who has found re­li­gion while in­car­cer­ated. We don’t know the na­ture of their crime, only that they were in it to­gether.

The play then flashes back to early 2000 and a pub fre­quented by work­ers from the lo­cal fac­tory. Tracey and Cyn­thia have worked on the floor for decades, along with their friend Jessie and, more re­cently, their sons—that’s right, Ja­son and Chris. But in the early years of NAFTA and Ge­orge W. Bush’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the cli­mate for labour is chang­ing: the union­ized work­ers at an­other com­pany have been locked out for nearly two years. In a se­ries of scenes set just a few weeks apart, we see the friends ex­pe­ri­ence dra­matic changes in their cir­cum­stances and their loy­al­ties.

Sweat is not a work of ver­ba­tim theatre, but it seems to spring from some of the same im­pulses. Not­tage in­ter­viewed Read­ing res­i­dents as she de­vel­oped the script, which ticks a lot of boxes: prej­u­dice, scape­goat­ing, drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion, re­li­gion, white supremacy. Ev­ery char­ac­ter is de­fined by the fac­tory: they speak of their pride in hav­ing a union card, and more than one says proudly, “I’m a worker.” Even Stan, the bar­tender, found his new role af­ter an ac­ci­dent at the plant: “Get­ting in­jured was the best thing that ever hap­pened to me,” he says. But the di­a­logue tends to make po­lit­i­cal points rather than ex­plore re­la­tion­ships, which—even be­tween par­ents and their kids— ex­ist al­most ex­clu­sively in re­la­tion to the work­place.

And the slow ratch­et­ing up of ten­sion in the first act means there’s not a lot in the way of real ac­tion. The plot’s steady con­tain­ment boosts the im­pact of Act 2’s in­evitable ex­plo­sion of vi­o­lence, but it also means much of the early go­ing is a sus­tained lull.

The cast does strong work un­der Va­lerie Planche’s di­rec­tion. Cyn­thia is the most fully de­vel­oped char­ac­ter, and Marci T. House em­braces all her con­tra­dic­tions. An­thony San­ti­ago plays her ex, Bru­cie, with hang­dog res­ig­na­tion. Ni­cole St. Martin’s Tracey is gritty and de­fi­ant, while An­drew Creight­ney brings a gen­tle hope­ful­ness to Chris. Ash­ley Wright’s Stan, al­ways calm and gen­er­ous, is a solid an­chor.

Shizuka Kai’s set fills the wide Stan­ley stage with a very au­then­tic pub back­drop, down to the green walls, wood trim, and abun­dance of Bud­weiser lo­gos, be­hind which looms the shadow of the fac­tory, ex­pres­sively lit by Daniela Masel­lis. Fight di­rec­tor Jonathan Haw­ley Purvis also de­serves men­tion: the vi­o­lence late in the play is sick­en­ingly real.

So is the de­cline in the for­tunes of work­ing-class Amer­i­cans. This play ends in 2008, but 10 years later, things have only got­ten worse.


dCIRCUS TRICKS WERE not on the menu when French troupe Wang Ramirez brought its fresh mix of con­tem­po­rary dance and aerial wires to Van­cou­ver. As a wowed crowd at the Dance­house sea­son opener wit­nessed, the com­pany draws beau­ti­ful, metaphor­i­cal im­agery us­ing rig­ging.

The over­all ef­fect is dream­like and po­etic—not the kind of show you might ex­pect from a crew so deeply grounded in hip-hop.

In one duet, com­pany co­founder Honji Wang slipped re­peat­edly out of part­ner Sébastien Ramirez’s grasp, float­ing ghost­like, just out of reach; later, she walked sur­re­ally up the side of his bare torso. A cou­ple’s in­abil­ity to con­nect be­came deliri­ous art.

In an­other duet, two women on bungees ran and hurled them­selves re­peat­edly to­ward a steel struc­ture, only to be yanked back, pulled up into the air, just as they closed in. You couldn’t help but con­jure refugees and bor­der fences from their Sisyphean strug­gle.

Part of Bor­der­line’s ap­peal is its sheer sim­plic­ity. The dancers share the stage with two sym­bolic, cage­like metal cubes that move around and get hoisted on wires. In a stun­ning solo, Ramirez, wear­ing a har­ness, break-danced with one rolling form, tum­bling in and out of its bars like he was in an anti­grav­ity cham­ber.

Clev­erly, mas­ter rig­ger Alis­ter Maz­zotti, all in black, was al­most al­ways vis­i­ble, an ever-present force con­trol­ling the per­form­ers’ fate.

In­flu­enced by Wang’s back­ground in bal­let and mar­tial arts, the move­ment seam­lessly fused hip-hop into a new hy­brid. But the en­tire five-mem­ber crew’s mad break­ing skills were ob­vi­ous; they ex­e­cuted dizzy­ing wind­mills wear­ing flow­ing, white-satin skirts that closed in over their feet. In one of the show’s brief hits of com­edy, Wang and the strik­ing, shaved-headed Jo­hanna Faye man­aged to break-dance wear­ing ridicu­lous sky-high heels.

While the vi­gnettes flowed in and out of one an­other seam­lessly, deeper metaphors about democ­racy and di­as­pora weren’t al­ways sus­tained.

But the move­ment was such a cool new fu­sion, and the im­agery—backed by lacry­moboy’s moody score—built enough of a mes­mer­iz­ing hold that when the en­core’s B-boy bat­tle came, it was a pure, cathar­tic thrill.

Janet Smith

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