Theater Review: 'Sweat'

Fresh off its critically acclaimed off-Broadway run last year, the new drama "Sweat" made its Broadway debut this week. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review. 

If you really want to know why Donald Trump became President, look no further than a play called “Sweat.” It takes place in Reading, Pennsylvania, a blue collar factory town where jobs are disappearing and depressed workers don’t trust politicians. Desperate for a lifeline, these are the people who inevitably determined our fate. Lynn Nottage’s searing new drama is a prescient study of an American dream gone belly up.

It mostly takes place 17 years ago, set in a seedy bar where the locals unwind after backbreaking work at the town’s steel plant. There we meet the bartender, Stan, a former factory worker forced into retirement after a workplace injury, three co-workers and longtime friends: Tracey, a brash hothead with a family legacy, Jessie, seemingly lost in an alcoholic haze and Cynthia the more centered of the trio who is estranged from her husband Brucie, an unemployed addict. We also meet Tracey and Cynthia’s sons, also plant workers. Jason is contentedly unambitious. Chris yearns for a college teaching degree.  And there’s Oscar, the Latino barboy who nobody seems to notice. 

How they each interact is portrayed in finely nuanced detail not only in dialogue but through performance and Kate Whoriskey’s sensitive and solid direction. This is a well-honed ensemble evoking the frustrations of a working class consistently undercut by corporate greed and their own willful ignorance.  

The story jumps ahead to 2008 as their lives spiral downward. The performers, all but one, reprising their roles from the Off-Broadway production, are excellent. Despite their plights, these are not the most sympathetic characters but they are real, struggling to survive incredibly bad odds.     

Nottage’s story covers all the bases as the characters contend with outsourcing, prejudice, addiction, layoffs, and strikes. And if it seems overly ambitious, it is nonetheless a powerful chronicle of a modern day tragedy. But to the author’s credit, there are words of wisdom here. Sweat the details, she seems to say, offering the slightest glimmer of hope.

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