EMAV Review: Cockroach Theatre breaks out a chilling 'SWEAT' ★★★★★

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

Maythinee Washington, Monica Heuser and Joe Basso.

★★★★★ - Irresistible

A superbly matched assemblage of talent veritably exploded onto the stage at Art Square, as Cockroach Theatre Company gifted us with a richly considered realization of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat.

Ms. Nottage’s star just keeps rising, and with Sweat currently being staged all over the country, we Valley denizens are fortunate indeed that these enterprising producers have ensured that Las Vegas got a first rate look at an internationally acclaimed author at the top of her game.

Having done considerable research into the subject matter and location, Nottage sets the story in Reading, Pennsylvania, alternately in 2000 and 2008. The dramatic journey concerns good, hard-working, middle class stock who are challenged by the rapid demise of the manufacturing sector. The rich writing concerns itself with individual identity and community responsibility.

Joe Basso, Richie Villafuerte, and Stuart J. Elzy.

The nuanced, complex character relationships touch on aspects of nationalism, sexism, ageism, entitlement, addiction, class warfare, escapism, and survival-ism all of which vibrate with riveting contemporary resonance. The back and forth time travel frames a cataclysmic, tragic event, but that is not to say there aren’t some solid laughs in the observant script.

The cast could quite simply not be bettered. Maythinee Washington does not so much act the pivotal role of "Cynthia" as inhabit her. As a divorced black mother, Ms. Washington invests the part with grit, pragmatism, assurance, and unrelenting determination to overcome any obstacle in her path. After she is put in an untenable position at the factory where she works, she prowls the stage with a raging intensity that can burst into an agonizing ferocity.

Matching her in demeanor and decibels, Monica Heuser is a dynamo as the bitter, blowsy "Tracey." Ms. Heuser finds a fine balance in the role, making her part hurtful harridan, part hurting homesteader who has to trudge ever onward through tedious factory work to make ends meet. She masterfully underscores the character’s conflicts as she struggles to control her resentments, her feeling of betrayal by friends and institutions, and her love-hate relationship with her adult son.

That son, "Jason," is played with simmering intensity by Ryan Mercier. From the moment we meet him in the show’s opening moments, Mr. Mercier commands our attentive interest with deadpan monosyllabic answers to his parole officer. His taut, coiled spring persona gives the unfolding situation just the right uncomfortable underpinning.

Pictured: Kelly Hawes, Ryan Mercier, Tavius Cortez, and Torrey Russell.

Torrey Russell is commanding as the parole officer, "Evan." Mr. Russell’s modulated queries and ultimatums resonate with tough love and well-calculated authority. His opening scene includes a parole meeting with Cynthia’s adult son "C