Prior to relocating to its new home at Illinois Street and the Glick Peace Walk, Phoenix Theatre is mounting its final production on the Steve & Livia Russell Stage and doing so with a big splash. Running Feb. 8 through March 4, “Sweat” by playwright Lynn Nottage, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, will be one of two final shows presented at the Park Avenue location. According to a Phoenix news release, Nottage’s drama, which is set in a fictional bar in Reading, Pennsylvania, is “a fiery story of identity, racial tension, and economic politics in the industrial, blue-collar world of the American labor force”—just the sort of meaty content the fearless theater has produced since its founding in 1983.
Directed by Producing Director and Founder Bryan Fonseca, the “Sweat” cast includes Phoenix regulars Rob Johansen, Angela Plank, Nathan Robbins, Dena Toler, Ian Cruz, Ramon Hutchins and newcomers Josiah McCruiston and Dwuan Watson.
Completing the cast for this final mainstage show is Diane Kondrat, a well-respected, former Indy and Bloomington actor. Having moved from the area in 2013, she is now a resident of Portland, Oregon where she has made a name for herself performing in shows like “Next Fall” at Enlightened Theatrics, “Middletown” and “New Electric Ballroom” at Third Rail Repertory, and “True West” at Profile Theatre. Wowing Portland audiences with her rare talent, just as she did here, she also played Queen Elizabeth I, Hitler, and Ronald Reagan in “Passion Play” for Shaking the Tree Theatre. In Portland, she has also performed in sketch comedy, films and in an episode of the NBC television series, “Grimm.”
I have reviewed many productions Kondrat has appeared in both here and in Bloomington. They include such favorites as “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” and “August: Osage County” at the Phoenix and “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” and “Grapes of Wrath” at Cardinal Stage Company in Bloomington. Along the way, I interviewed her several times and eventually we became friends. Like many others, I have kept up with her on Facebook, but had no idea she was returning to Indy until she wrote me an email to inform me she was back in town to appear in “Sweat.” That led to us reconnecting recently at a downtown coffee shop, giving me an opportunity to be updated on both her personal and professional life since leaving Indiana.
“I don’t know what is in Bryan’s mind and what he is thinking all the time, but I was hoping I could come back to be on that stage one more time. I couldn’t be happier to be part of the final mainstage show before they close the doors,” said Kondrat.
Regarding “Sweat,” Kondrat said, “It reminds me of Arthur Miller a little bit. It represents working-class dramas well. It’s beautifully written. It’s uncommon language because these are blue- collar people. This script is really important and exciting and will give a feeling of, we’ll just call it, ‘fleetness of heart.’ It really touches on an American way of being that has respect for people who keep things going, those who don’t wear suits to work and who may be questioning their own personal value as reflected in their economic situation. In this piece, you hear a lot more than you usually do from a woman’s point of view because the show is written by a woman. The female characters are just as important as the men.”
About her character, Tracey, Kondrat said, “I knew she was fun, but not until I read the whole script with the rest of the cast did I realize what a firecracker she is, a real instigator throughout the whole show and in charge of a lot of the comedy. Her humor is drawn out of desperation. She comes from a family of workers, is a worker herself and clearly one of the disenfranchised Americans.”
I asked Kondrat if there were any similarities between her and her character, to which she replied, “My acting teacher always said ‘The closer a role is to who you really are, the more you have to work at being specific and being clear about who your character is so you don’t trot yourself out.’ The energy level she has is very familiar, as is her style of speaking. Let’s just say she leans toward a free relationship with vulgarity that I find very comforting and appealing (laughs). Actually, I have been stopped several times in Portland by people who saw me in plays and told me I am the best swearer they have ever heard. People out there are very polite (laughs).”
As for Portland, the wife of writer Tony Ardizzone and mother of two adult children, 30-year-old Anna who lives close by (the reason Kondrat moved there) and 35-year-old Nick (who lives in Seattle) said, “ It’s very beautiful there. I walk my dog by the Columbia River Gorge. I have a 35-pound kayak that I can put on my car all by myself and be on the Columbia River a half an hour away. I can watch ospreys teach their babies how to fish. And then there are the mountains and in the other direction, I am an hour and a half from one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country.”
“How does Indy look?” I asked. “My goodness gracious,” she said. “It’s poppin’. Walking down Mass Ave and remembering 30 years ago when people were afraid to go down there, even for matinees. They were afraid to park their cars anywhere near Mass Ave. It’s incredible. The city has become a more happening place.”
And what does Kondrat want to say to those who may or may not know she’s back in town and why they should see “Sweat?” “I am really happy to have the opportunity to do this character. She’s so much fun, but also has a deep aspect. People who are comedians know that real comedy comes from pain. Lynn Nottage is not afraid to show the full range of this person’s being. It’s a wonderful cast and script. They didn’t give it a Pulitzer Prize for nothing. And I can’t think of a better reason to go the theatre than to see me (laughs).”
Tickets for “Sweat” are available by calling the box office at (317) 635-7529 or visiting phoenixtheatre.org. Tickets are: $27 for regular Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. Fridays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Opening night Friday and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. are $33.