Sweating to the oldies
Zora Neale Hurston wrote ‘Sweat,’ a story of an abusive relationship in small town 81 years ago.
But director James Miller, a senior acting and political science major, thinks the subject is very relevant to this day and age so he is directing the play at the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Center until Oct. 18.
Miller said that something unique in this show is the melodrama and the interaction between the cast members.
The play tells the story of Delia Jones, the main character who gets repeatedly beaten up, stepped on and taken advantage of by her husband, Sykes.
‘Sweat’ begins on a hot summer day. Delia decides she can’t take the abuse anymore and when Sykes raises his hand to hit her, Delia stands up for herself and fights back rather than cower in the corner.
The play progresses from there, showing how Delia gains strength and power and eventually escapes the relationship.
‘It’s very movement based,’ Miller said. ‘One could watch it without sound and still know what was going on.
‘The actors become a snake, a rising sun – you can see the young people turn into old town folk in just a few minutes.’
The nine-person cast is composed of students from various ethnic backgrounds and majors, including a student in The College of Art and Sciences, a graduate student and a member of the Syracuse community.
Despite the adaptation from a book by a black novelist, the play has cast members from various racial backgrounds. Miller said he never wanted the play to be an all black cast because blacks weren’t the only ones who were discriminated against during those times.
‘Everyone has a journey,’ Miller said. ‘Everyday people are who we respect the most.’
Miller compared the plight of Delia Jones to the journey of famed singer Tina Turner, who also escaped an abusive relationship.
‘She (Turner) was also the breadwinner in the relationship and was able to get out of it,’ Miller said. ‘It shows, ‘look, people can get out.”
This is the second time the play will be running in the Syracuse community. After an impressive and surprising showing last spring during its debut, Miller received an offer to direct in a new season.
Last April, the show had an audience, which for the first time drew people from the city. Every day the house was packed, Miller said. But in its original venue, there was a need for additional seats, and it still wasn’t enough to accommodate the entire audience. Coincidentally enough, the show premiered during National Domestic Violence Awareness month.
‘I call this show the little engine that could,’ Miller said. ‘We were still replacing actors up to two weeks before the show last year, but it did well and landed me my first paid directing job, actually.’
Even though the show made it through multiple conflicts last year to come out on top, it hasn’t escaped complications this time around.
Since Miller is also a member of the cast of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,’ he wasn’t able to be as close to the cast during warm-up preparations as he was last year.
‘Sometimes actors want to tweak performances once the director leaves, but luckily I have some old cast members left around to give extra directions,’ Miller said.
Another obstacle that comes with being in another show while directing one is that Miller has yet to see his production performed on stage for the season, even though it has only been running for a week.
‘I’ve been doing something that directors usually aren’t supposed to do,’ Miller said. ‘I’ve read some reviews in the Times and the Post-Standard, and we got good reviews so it should be good.’
Even though the show seems to be doing well and was well-received last year, Miller said he wants this to be his final time directing the show.
‘It’s like visiting an old friend,’ Miller said. ‘What different in the show is how I do it, whether that’s a good or bad thing I don’t know, but I don’t think there’s a reason to do it again.’
The show runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays now through October 18th at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students with SUID and $15 for the general public.
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