Monday, April 24, 2017

On Broadway- Sweat

Sweat by Lynn Nottage


More than a few years ago, I saw a wonderful play by Lynn Nottage, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark. It was a remarkable play, one that I never forgot. When I saw the ads for another play by Nottage, Sweat, I knew I had to see it.

And when Nottage won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Sweat, I ran to get a ticket. Set in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2000 and 2008, Nottage takes on the topic of factories closing in small cities and what that does to the town and the people who worked there.

Most of the action takes place in a bar, where we meet Cynthia, Tracie and Jessie, celebrating a birthday in 2000. Times are pretty good, the ladies are having a good time, dancing and drinking until Cynthia's troubled estranged husband shows up. His union has been on strike for years, and it has turned him inside out.

Cynthia's son Chris and Tracie's son Jason also work at the factory, although Chris wants to save his money to go to college to become a teacher, which Chris and bar manager Stan scoff at. Why give up a steady job, good pay, health insurance and more to teach?

The good times don't last. There are rumblings that the factory may move to Mexico because of NAFTA, and that leaves these people without many options.

Nottage takes on class, race, immigration, friendship, loyalty and much more in this powerful, searing drama that left me shaken and shaking at the end. Although set in 2000 and 2008, and written well before the election of 2016, Sweat resonates like nothing I've seen since The Normal Heart.

She provokes thought and emotion in the rapt audience. You could literally hear people breathing, it was so quiet in the theater.

All the performances are astonishing, with Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson and Krhis Davis particular standouts. Alison Wright, who is having quite a career now, first as Martha in FX's The Americans and as Pauline in FX's Feud: Bette and Joan, has a smaller role as Jessie, but she makes the most of it.

Nottage brings these people to vivid life, and helps us to understand why people feel left behind in this economy. Things changed too fast for them, and caught them by surprise. Everything they thought would continue has gone away, for many different reasons.

I got a discount ticket to Sweat, but this is a show I would gladly pay full-price to see.

Watching Sweat put me in mind of ABC's brilliant drama, John Ridley's American Crime, which this season deals with similiar themes- people who are in bad situations, often not of their doing. They feel disposable. If you haven't watched it, stream it. It is very sad, but must-see TV.


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