LYNN NOTTAGE wrote her sizzling new play Sweat three years ago on a commission from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. There are moments when artists such as Nottage write at the height of their powers and seem to prophesy about the life of humanity. Certainly Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or Tony Kushner’s Angels in America accomplished such prophetic feats, and it’s not a stretch to say that Nottage’s Sweat could do the same. Set in the Rust Belt of the United States, with the decline of manufacturing jobs reeling out of control, Sweat may be the timeliest play of this New York theater season, opening March 4 on Broadway, at Studio 54.
Nottage got the idea to write the play after hearing that Reading, Pa., is one of the most impoverished towns in the U.S. We witness on stage the birth of Trump’s America, rife with economic hardship in a community that is doing all it can to hang on to its identity, and losing it at every turn.
This pressing drama is set between the years 2000 and 2008, shifting back and forth in time to reveal just how the devastating economic hardships of the 21st century were taking hold. Most of the scenes are set in the town’s local watering hole, where we witness the local culture, friendships breaking down, and a serious hate crime that lands two of the characters in jail. We follow these two directionless young men who are seeking a life that yields more than just another job. We also follow a trio of female friends who have supported one another through it all on the factory floor and in the intimacies of life.