Sweat is a 2015 play by Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Lynn Nottage. Set in 2008, it has been described as reminiscent of the “working-class naturalism” of Clifford Odets. It won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Lynn Nottage began working on the play in 2011 by interviewing 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 was particularly influenced by a New York Times article reporting on the city specifically, and by the Occupy Wall Street movement more generally. She particularly examined the loss of heavy industry and a changing ethnic composition, and has compared her time talking to steelworkers in Reading with the occasion she stayed in the town of Mansfield in the English Midlands 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 working in the same factory. The action takes place in a fictional bar in Reading, Pennsylvania, a town described as “synonymous with deindustrialisation”. Switching scenes with events of eight years earlier, Nottage shows how events take individuals on divergent pathways, to a backdrop of job cuts, poverty, and downsizing, with none of the characters except the barman realising what is at stake. Variety quotes him as warning them 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”. The characters have been described as being blue-collar workers who voted in Donald Trump as President.
The play also examines the disintegration of a friendship; two of the women – one white, one black – apply for the same management job. The latter character gets the position, but soon, when the company does indeed move jobs to Mexico, and the trade union goes on strike, the workers are locked-out. 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, particularly focusing on the similarities between the description 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; indeed, the Wall Street Journal suggested the play even “explained” Trump’s win. It has been described as “the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era”, with open comparisons of the characters being drawn with Trump’s phrase “the forgotten people”.
Sweat was first performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015 before playing at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
After starting previews on October 18, 2016, Sweat opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on November 3, 2016, before closing on December 18, 2016 for a Broadway transfer. 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 at Studio 54 on March 4, 2017, before opening on March 26.
Cast 2017 Broadway
James Colby – Stan
Khris Davis – Broadway Debut – Chris
Johanna Day – Tracey
John Earl Jelks – Brucie
Will Pullen – Broadway Debut – Jason
Lance Coadie Williams – Broadway debut- Evan
Michelle Wilson – Cynthia
Alison Wright Broadway Debut – Jessie
Creative Broadway 2017
Written by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Associate Director: Sherri Eden Barber
Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty
Costume Design by Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
Projection Design by Jeff Sugg
Makeup Design by Leah J. Loukas
Hair Design by Leah J. Loukas
Associate Scenic Design: Kacie Hultgren
Associate Costume Design: Christopher Metzger
Associate Sound Design: Joanna Lynne Staub
Assistant Lighting Design: Rob Sambrato
Assistant Projection Design: Daniel Vatsky
Moving Light Programmer: Caroline Chao
General Manager: Thompson Turner Productions
Company Manager: Daniel Hoyos
Production Coordinator: Aurora Productions
Technical Supervisor: Steve Beers
Production Stage Manager: Donald Fried
Stage Manager: Alexandra Hall
Awards and Nominations
The play was nominated for the 2017 Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Play and Outstanding Fight Choreography.
Sweat received three 2017 Tony Award nominations: Best Play and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson).
- Fottrell, Quentin. “Pulitzer Prize winner on ‘Sweat,’ her Broadway play about Trump’s America: ‘Being poor is one of the hardest jobs in the world'”.
- “The First Theatrical Landmark of the Trump Era”.
- 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners and Nominees, The Pulitzer Prizes, 2017, retrieved 10 April 2017
- “Who are these Trump voters? For a thoughtful portrait, turn to playwright Lynn Nottage’s ‘Sweat'”. 9 November 2016 – via Los Angeles Times.
- Smith, David (17 February 2016). “Lynn Nottage: ‘Nostalgia is a disease many white Americans have'”. The Guardian.
- Isherwood, Charles (16 August 2015). “Review: Lynn Nottage’s ‘Sweat’ Examines Lives Unraveling by Industry’s Demise”. The New York Times.
- Teachout, Terry (16 November 2016). “The Play That Explains Trump’s Win”. The Wall Street Journal.
- Stasio, Marilyn (4 November 2016). “Off Broadway Review: Lynn Nottage’s ‘Sweat'”.
- Negley, Erin (23 March 2017). “‘Sweat,’ Reading-based play by Pulitzer prize winner Lynn Nottage, debuts on Broadway”. Lancaster Online. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
- Khan, Jessica (August 28, 2015). “Lynn Nottage’s SWEAT Headed to The Public Next Year; Broadway on the Horizon?”. Broadway World. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
- “Sweat”. The Public Theater. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
- “Lynn Nottage’s Sweat Will Transfer to Broadway”. Broadway.com. December 5, 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
- McPhee, Ryan. ” ‘Hello, Dolly!’, ‘Come From Away’, and ‘Anastasia’ Lead 2017 Drama Desk Award Nominations” Playbill, April 27, 2017
- Staff. “2017 Tony Award Nominations: ‘The Great Comet’ and ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Lead the Pack” Playbill, May 2, 2017
- All References at Wiki