An emotionally powerful ‘Sweat’ from U.S. Naval Academy Masqueraders

The Naval Academy Masqueraders’ production of Sweat is an emotionally powerful show. Lynn Nottage’s 2015 play, about factory workers in Reading in 2000, with several scenes set in 2008, dramatically deals with class, race, gender, and capitalism. Directed by Christy Stanlake, it raises thought-provoking questions that feel just as relevant today.

Lillian Kelly gives a righteous anger to Tracey, a factory worker. She rushes up to defend her friend Cynthia (Sofia Okorafor) when her ex Brucie (Rob Saunders) tries to patch things up. She complains when Oscar (Andre Saiz) asks her about applying for a factory job. She rails at Cynthia when she gets a promotion “off the line” and management begins to change the working situation, for the worse. She yells at her son Jason (Christian Landis) when he asks her for money. She rages against a world that is changing the rules she used to live by.

Sofia Okorafor gives a quiet strength to Cynthia. She stands her ground against Brucie, telling him she’s unwilling to get back together. After her promotion, she speaks of her joy at having air conditioning for the first time. Caught between management and her friends working “on the line,” she tries to explain the situation and promises to help them, but refuses to strike with them, unwilling to give up what she’s worked all her life to get.

Stan the bartender (Ty Fuselier), Chris (Joel Thomas), Oscar the bus boy (Andre Saiz), Jason (Christian Landis), and Tracey (Lillian Kelly) in the USNA Masqueraders’ production of ‘Sweat.’ Photo by MIDN Max Bueno.

Christian Landis plays Jason, a young factory worker, with a youthful enthusiasm. He playfully teases his friend Chris (Joel Thomas) about his “aspirations.” As the dispute between workers and management continues, anger, tinged with racism, takes him over. In fact, when he first appears on stage, he seethes with anger, giving surly, one-word answers to his parole officer’s questions. Watching him change is saddening.

Joel Thomas plays Chris, another young worker, with idealism and hope. His voice fills with joy as he speaks about his plans to go to college and get “off the line,” defending his dreams against Jason’s teasing. During the labor dispute, he realizes that the system has them all “fighting for scraps.” In the 2008 scenes, he still radiates positivity, even after all he’s experienced.

Ty Fuselier gives a strength to Stan, owner of the bar where the characters gather. A former worker himself, he tries to explain how the system has no loyalty to its workers. Trying to keep the peace between strikers and temporary workers, he yells at them to shut up or get out, producing a baseball bat.

Andre Saiz gives a forcefulness to Oscar, a bar worker who gets a job at the factory during the dispute. Quiet at the start, he defends himself against Tracey and Jason for becoming a “scab,” explaining how he was never part of their family, never invited to any of their homes, and so owes them nothing in his pursuit of a better life.

Olivia Hunt plays Jessie, another worker, with a mix of anger and wistfulness. She starts the play drunk on a table, cursing Stan for not giving her another drink before racing to the bathroom. Later, she reminisces about her dreams of world travel with a musician boyfriend.

Rob Saunders gives a desperation to Brucie. Out of work and struggling with addiction, he doesn’t know what to do, begging Cynthia to take him back and asking Jason and Chris for money.

Washington Ross plays Evan the parole officer as a sort of mirror. He matches Jason’s anger, threatening to write a bad report unless Jason satisfies his questions. He responds to Chris’ calmness with a quiet understanding.

Alyssa Nagle, Mary Casper, and Eduardo Ramirez play News Reporters who open every scene with the date and recap world and local events. Their transitions to each other, with emotions barely concealed, give humorous moments to a serious play.

Set Designer George Hollister fills the stage with a bar, with tables, chairs, and stools throughout. A jukebox is in the back center and a sofa holds the far right. Posters are on the walls. For scenes set in apartments, a sofa, nice chair, and side table come forward. Costume Coordinators Rob Saunders and Washington Ross ensure most of the actors are in character with blue-collar working clothes, like jeans, overalls, and work booths. Evan wears khakis and a nice shirt, and after Cynthia’s promotion, she wears slightly nicer dresses.

Lighting Designer Jenna Jeletic blacks out the stage for each scene, spotlighting the News Reporters. For the few scenes set outside the bar, a small section is illuminated. Sound Designer Emiliano Torres Valencia throws out the sound of fireworks for July 4th, political speeches on the TV, and music.

Blood and Makeup Stylists Lexi Betances, Alyssa Nagle, and Sophia Okorafor give frightening tattoos and bruises to Jason in several scenes, which are well-concealed in the others. Blood is also used well in another dramatic scene.

Christy Stanlake does a great job as director. The actors move around the stage and with each other well. One well-choreographed violent scene perfectly captures the shocking brutality. Some actors’ voices project less than others; combined with their use of working-class Pennsylvania accents, it can sometimes be difficult to understand them. And without aging makeup, it takes a while to realize most of the 20-something actors are playing people in their 40s, as well as the fact that Jason and Chris are Tracey and Cynthia’s sons. Still, this production showcases the power of drama to explore issues just as important today. Kudos to the Masqueraders for tackling such a meaningful, “heavy” play. Only two performances remain, so catch it while you can!

Running Time: Approximately two hours 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Sweat plays November 18 and 19, 2022, at Mahan Hall at the United States Naval Academy – 106 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($7 Midshipmen, $15 General Public), call the ticket office at 410-293-8497 or purchase online. Note: visitors must present a photo ID when entering Gate 3 (pedestrians) or Gate 1 (cars).