Lynn Nottage is a gifted playwright. She can take a real situation and place it into a play in a way that an audience can understand, identify with and deeply care about. In an election year when we keep hearing about American jobs going to Mexico and NAFTA, Nottage has created a play called “Sweat” that gives this situation faces, names, frustrations and consequences.
She shows the audience a community—Readen, Penn., in which generations of families have made their living working at the steel mill. It’s been a decent living for generations, but things are not as secure as they used to be. It’s 2000 and factories are closing, workers are losing their jobs and lives are being ruined.
Nottage gets the audience to immediately care as we get to know these factory workers and their offspring, all employed by the steel mill. Some families are Black, some are white, but these people grew up together and have deeply rooted friendships. The friendships have been able to withstand most of what life has thrown at them, but people do have breaking points and there are definite consequences for people’s actions.
These factory workers have been taken for granted, trampled on and used. They have to fight for the right to feel that they matter. Nottage handles everything in this play with sensitivity and realism. She doesn’t sugar-coat anything.
This production unfolds in a very interesting way as it gives you the story in a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, but when you mentally fit the pieces together everything is clear. A company’s greed destroys American workers’ lives and it is not the fault of the workers. You also realize that people will do anything to survive.
I really want to whet your appetite to see this powerful, magnetic play from Nottage. I love how she can take situations of everyday people and make them explosive, brilliant and riveting. Her work imitates life to the point that you are left stunned and pondering the potency of what you have just experienced.
The ensemble cast does a superb job in bringing this story to life and includes Khris Davis, Michelle Wilson, John Earl Jelks, Johanna Day, Miriam Shor, Will Pullen, James Colby, Carlo Alban and Lance Coadie Williams.
“Sweat” has phenomenal direction by Kate Whoriskey. Every element of this production enhances it, from the detailed set of John Lee Beatty, to the costume design of Jennifer Moeller, to the lighting design of Peter Kaczorowski.
Go to the Public Theatre and experience this profound play for yourself! You will walk away with a new respect for these families who support themselves with manual labor.