A white woman in a flannel shirt and baseball cap sits left at a bar table. A Black woman stands to the right next to the table. Behind them is the rest of the bar and other patrons in soft focus.
Linda Gillum and Shariba Rivers in Sweat at Paramount's Copley Theatre Credit: Liz Lauren

Lynn Nottage’s gripping drama Sweat launches a new direction for Aurora’s Paramount Theater, a 1,000-plus seat, 87-year-old Versailles-on-acid space known for award-winning musicals. Directed by Andrea J. Dymond, Sweat is the first production in the new Copley Theatre, a minimalist steel-and-glass black box across the street from the larger venue. Dymond’s airtight ensemble makes the most of the gleaming new space, delivering an all-too-familiar look at the violent intersection of racism and recession. 

Through 4/24: Wed 1:30 and 7 PM, Thu 7 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 1 and 5:30 PM; Copley Theatre, 8 E. Galena, Aurora, 630-896-6666, paramountaurora.com, $67-$74.

Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, between 2000 and the recession of 2008, Sweat lets you know up front that something terrible has happened in the bar where most of the action takes place. Flitting between years, each scene provides a piece in a tantalizing puzzle eventually ruptured by violence. Sweat premiered in 2015 (it had its local premiere at the Goodman in 2019); two national elections later, it’s clear her writing was starkly prescient and remains of-the-moment. Nottage’s white, working-class characters provide vivid, eerily specific foreshadowing of the MAGA/white supremacist movement exponentially emboldened under the 45th president. 

The plot hinges on the factory where generations of white families have found security, certain that their loyalty would mean a solid income and, eventually, a comfortable retirement. As that security vanishes, the ramifications play out with visceral brutality. The ensemble delivers a long, slow burn that ultimately explodes in David Woolley’s bone-crunching fight choreography. Keep an eye on Jordan Anthony Arredondo as Oscar, a barback who the garrulous regulars ignore, vilify, and ultimately have to reckon with. Linda Gillum is terrifying as Tracey, a worker ripe for far-right radicalization. And in Shariba Rivers’s upwardly mobile Cynthia, Nottage shows how something good—like a promotion—can make a Black woman a target for everybody else who wanted the job (and even those who didn’t).