Sweat by Lynn Nottage, a play that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2017, examines the lives of working-class Americans in the early 2000s and shows how periods of economic downfall and poverty can affect the dynamics between friends, family, and community.
This play is set in Reading, Pennsylvania and follows a group of friends who work in the same factory. When Cynthia, an African-American woman, gets a promotion over her white American friend Tracy, the play begins to show how even the closest of friendships can be ripped apart when money is involved. The main setting, a bar, invites the audience into the play by presenting a welcoming atmosphere, and friendly banter and birthday parties give the beginning of the play a familiar feel. Nottage doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable or the realistic, however, and Sweat is littered with moments of foreshadowing and buildup.
The themes in Sweat are, tragically, timeless, and the play is a microcosm of today’s issues of poverty, race, and discrimination. Nottage shows how the deindustrialization of a town can leave its population angry and empty. The cast of characters in Sweat wish they could break out of the constant cycle of poverty, but each generation cannot seem to escape. The circumstances that Nottage’s characters are faced with are unrelentingly devastating, and there seems to be little room for hope or redemption. The play goes back and forth between 2000 and 2008, and so the audience is aware of the lack of justice or resolution as soon as they are finished reading the opening scene. The play balances out the hard-hitting themes with quick dialogue and humor that packs a punch.
Although the act of reading a play may seem strange, the scenes and dialogue in Sweat are just as beautiful and realistic as they would be in a novel, if not, more so. The play reads as naturally as if you are seeing it performed on stage. Although this genre is often overlooked, Sweat is certainly a play that breaks the mold: its plot and themes are relevant for any reader living in 21st century America.