Sweat is a 2015 play by American playwright Lynn Nottage. It won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015; it was produced Off-Broadway in 2016 and on Broadway in 2017. The play is centered on the working class of Reading, Pennsylvania.
Lynn Nottage began working on the play in 2011 by interviewing numerous residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which at the time was, according to the United States Census Bureau, officially one of the poorest cities in America, with a poverty rate of over 40%. Nottage has said that she was particularly influenced by a New York Times article reporting on the city specifically, and by the Occupy Wall Street movement more generally. She explored the effects on residents of the loss of heavy industry and the changing ethnic composition of the city. She has compared her time talking to former steelworkers in Reading with the occasion when she stayed in the town of Mansfield in the English Midlands and interviewed workers during the 1984 miners' strike.
The play portrays a meeting between a parole officer and two ex-convicts, and three women who were childhood friends and had worked in the same factory. The action takes place in a fictional bar in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Nottage shifts in time, switching scenes and showing events of eight years earlier. Variety quotes the bartender, Stan, as warning the other characters that "You could wake up tomorrow and all your jobs are in Mexico", to which the characters respond with lethargy and disbelief. Variety described Nottage as going into "the heart of working-class America". Reviews of the play have described the characters as representing blue-collar workers who voted in Donald Trump as President.
The play also examines the disintegration of a friendship, after two of the women – one white, one black – apply for the same management job. The latter character gets the position. But soon the company moves jobs to Mexico. The trade union goes on strike, and company management locks out the workers. The management/worker division begins to separate the friends, and racial tensions separate them further.
The play has been described as "a powerful and emotional look at identity, race, economy, and humanity."
The play's political context has also been noted. Reviews focused on the similarities between the portrayal of the industrial working class in a Rust Belt town, and that being a significant area and demographic in the 2016 United States presidential election. The Wall Street Journal review suggested the play "explained" Trump's win. It said that the city was "synonymous with deindustrialisation", for the effects there of loss of heavy industry and related jobs.
The New Yorker said the play was "the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era". It also suggested that the play was reminiscent of the "working-class naturalism" of Clifford Odets, a playwright of the 1930s. The characters portrayed were associated with Trump's election campaign phrase of "the forgotten people".
After starting previews on October 18, 2016, Sweat opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on November 3, 2016. It closed on December 18, 2016 to transfer to Broadway. Directed by Kate Whoriskey (who also directed the earlier productions), the cast featured Carlo Alban (Oscar), James Colby (Stan), Khris Davis (Chris), Johanna Day (Tracey), John Earl Jelks (Brucie), Will Pullen (Jason), Miriam Shor (Jessie), Lance Coadie Williams (Evan), and Michelle Wilson (Cynthia). The production began previews on Broadway at Studio 54 on March 4, 2017, before opening on March 26. The production closed on June 25, 2017, after 105 performances.
A London production opened at the Donmar Warehouse on 7 December 2018, running until 2 February 2019. The play was directed by Lynette Linton, and featured Clare Perkins and Martha Plimpton as the mothers and Osy Ikhile (Chris) and Parick Gibson (Jason). The production will transfer to the West End's Guielgud Theatre, running from 7 June 2019 to 20 July.
Awards and nominations
Sweat received three 2017 Tony Award nominations: Best Play and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for both Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson.
The West End production won the Evening Standard play of the year award for 2019.
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- 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners and Nominees, The Pulitzer Prizes, 2017, retrieved 10 April 2017
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- The Justice Theatre Project
- Isherwood, Charles (16 August 2015). "Review: Lynn Nottage's 'Sweat' Examines Lives Unraveling by Industry's Demise". The New York Times.
- Stasio, Marilyn (4 November 2016). "Off Broadway Review: Lynn Nottage's 'Sweat'".
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- Teachout, Terry (16 November 2016). "The Play That Explains Trump's Win". The Wall Street Journal.
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- "Lynn Nottage’s 'Sweat' to transfer to West End from Donmar Warehouse" londontheatre.co.uk, 8 February 2019
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