What is it about?
Sweat centers around a group of friends and their children who spend nights and birthdays at the same bar - sharing laughs and happy memories while working together on the line of a factory floor. But when promotions, layoffs and picket lines start eating away at their trust in each other, friendships are tested as each of them fights to remain employed.
What I experienced?
As millennials who will one day raise the next generation, how do we ensure that we're raising children who respect all people regardless of race, gender or social class?
When my previous boss reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in joining her and a group of current high school interns to go see this production, I obviously couldn't say no. As the day drew closer, I realized that I hadn't been to the theatre with another person in about half a year, let alone a large group - which I hadn't done since my senior year of high school almost five years ago! Prior to the show, I met everyone at the Park Avenue Armory - my old place of employment - for a pre-show lunch. While we were all there, we discussed the themes we would expect to find in the show as well as the context of the years it takes place in. Sweat bounces back and forth between the years 2000 and 2008. Having this information session was definitely new for me since I usually go into every production I see with little to no research or expectations. But this was also incredibly helpful considering how little I remembered about those two years.
Watching this show, I found myself on the actual edge of my seat, my heart rate increasing the more I watched and having to close my mouth after my jaw dropped one too many times. From the very beginning, I saw a group of friends as they enjoy the year 2000, when the U.S. is doing fairly well politically and economically. But as I listened, even before shit hits the fan during the year 2008, I could see how much race played a role between them. Listening closely to the dialogue shared between friends, I heard microaggressions dropped repeatedly. One of these instances occurs between Chris and Jason, childhood friends and the children of best friends Tracey and Cynthia. Chris talks about Black History Month as a man of color and Jason fires back saying "Why can't we have white history month?" During the conversation, neither one is really phased by the question but it left me (and some people around me) shaking my head and letting out a whispered "is he serious?!" The idea that white people "deserve" a "White History Month" is not a new idea and is one I've heard jokingly asked more than a few times. Tracey also continually throws low blows towards Oscar, the bar's helper, by saying things like "that job isn't for you" - a clear jab at the fact that he's Hispanic. The more these kinds of comments are said, the angrier I became. I kept wondering "why are Cynthia and Chris friends with these people?!" I just wanted to yell, PLEASE STOP TALKING!
I found myself getting genuinely angry at Tracey and Jason - mother and son. They are the source of most of the racist commentary and microaggressions shared on stage. It was hard to listen to, especially at the beginning, because they are shared jokingly and among friends, so no one thinks anything of it (until later when they are mad at each other and by then, the commentary only gets worse). While this occurs during these happier times, I wonder - do we just not notice or do we not care enough to stop it in its tracks?
The character that I found myself drawn to was Oscar. He doesn't have very many lines until much later in the show and is often seen on stage wiping tables, cleaning glasses and even removing gum from under tables. His presence often goes unnoticed by the rest of the cast - he is almost never spoken to or even looked at. Once he decides, in the year 2008, to take a job at the factory for lower pay - where the rest of them are no longer working - he is treated like absolute trash by everyone else. People that he has known for years, who have never even said hello to him are now angry at him. Do we ever realize that people around us are all just as human as we are? Regardless of social class or skin tone? I started thinking about myself when I'm at a restaurant. Do I ever acknowledge the helpers - the busboy, the one taking out the trash? Do we forget to treat other people with equal respect regardless of where we see ourselves in comparison? When Jason and Chris take out their aggression on Oscar and as a result get arrested for it, I was truly disgusted and blown away. I kept thinking to myself, "if Oscar was white, would Jason still be this angry?" I also couldn't ignore the fact that Chris is black - part of another marginalized group - and is engaging in a hate crime towards someone very much like him.
As I left the theatre, talking with some of my old colleagues that I hadn't seen or talked to in a while, we talked for hours about how much we see the issues presented in this show in our own lives. How we have failed to noticed microaggressions in our friendships. How we see the influence of race and gender in relationships, work settings and even standing in a crowded train car. We talked about the importance of the "Black Lives Matter" movement and why it matters to us. As millennials who will one day raise the next generation, how do we do better to ensure that we're raising children who respect all people regardless of race, gender or social class? What can we do to help spread love so that mixed race friendships and relationships are not overflowing with microaggressions and low blows? I don't know what we can expect our country to look like years from now especially given the political climate we're in currently. What I do know is that love for others will always triumph hate. Love for others - especially for those who differ from you - can go a very long way. 'Loving others as we love ourselves' is such an easy concept but somehow, surprisingly difficult.
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