It is uncommon for a theater to present two works by the same author in one season, unless it is a festival.
This year, however, Silver Spring Stage showed “Intimate Apparel” by Lynn Nottage and is about to present “Sweat.”
“Sweat,” which won a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award, premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and eventually moved to Broadway.
Nottage began working on the play in 2011 by interviewing numerous residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which at the time was, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was one of the poorest cities in the United States. Nottage explored the effects on residents of the loss of heavy industry and the changing ethnic composition.
“It was this time last year when I pitched ‘Sweat’ to Silver Spring Stage. It was the best play I had read in ten years,” said Matt J. Bannister, who is directing. “All nine of the characters were incredibly well written, wonderfully layered, complex, real people.”
What also intrigued Bannister, was the way the play explained today’s political landscape. The show is set in two timelines, 2000 and 2008, but the connection to the 2016 election is unmistakable, he said. The generation did what previous generations did without reaping the same rewards.
“That sense of injustice exposes an undercurrent of racism that permeates the town and is exploited to fracture unions and friendships,” said Bannister. “The American dream was never available to everyone.”
Bannister said his directing style prioritizes truthful performances above all else, both in dialogue and movement, to create a world that the audience will be invested in from the first scene to last.
“There are 25 years of memories and life experience that these people lived together, and although the audience will never know about much of this, they will feel the connections,” he said. “Everyone in the cast feels this is a really important work.”
One of the cast members is Andres Roa, who plays Oscar, a young Colombian-American that works at the bar where the characters congregate.
Working extremely long days for little pay and no union benefits, Oscar is fueled by his father’s work ethic and the injustice of the “American Dream,” so he himself is as hard a worker, said Roa. He is also loyal, finding an almost father/son kinship with Stan (with whom he works with most times at the bar). But Oscar’s only mission in life is his and his family’s survival, which at times can make him seem selfish or reckless on the surface, he added. (right
The actor said he was chiefly drawn by Nottage’s writing, which he finds “compelling and complicated” in its humanity. Secondly, he added it is especially delicious for him as a Colombian-American actor to play a character of the same background. At the same time, Roa and the character are different.
“Oscar is blue-collar to the core and proud of it; I am a filmmaker and an actor,” said Roa. “Naturally, we have very different callouses from our jobs and our lives. Again, this is the type of thing that excites me as a storyteller. The challenge to not only see myself in someone else’s life, but to allow myself to suffer the way he would suffer, or celebrate how he would. Oscar is definitely more rough-around-the-edges than me, which is an exhilarating and exhausting form to inhabit for extended periods of time.”
Bannister said that the collaboration between diverse creative team and cast has allowed them to “truly understand these wonderfully rich and complex characters created by the playwright and their shared history before we observe these slices of their lives.”
“I wanted to condense the space of the stage and invite you into the bar so that you live these moments with them. To share their laughter, their pain, their truth.”
“Sweat” runs Nov. 1-23 at Silver Spring Stage, Woodmoor Shopping Center, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. www.ssstage.org.