Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sweat -- Great drama

Went to see Lynn Nottage's play Sweat at the Arena here in DC today. Nottage won the drama Pulitzer for a play called Ruined, which I have not seen. Sweat is a superb drama, which I hope makes it to New York. It was a co-production of Arena and the Oregon Shakespeare Company in Ashland, where the original production occurred last year.

The story is bleak: set in Reading, Pa., in 2000 and 2008, it shows how workers in a plant are squeezed by management intent on moving the plant to Mexico as facilitated by NAFTA. Within this context, one character earns a promotion from being on the line to a supervisory white-collar position. As the situation turns grimmer, the workers begin to fight among themselves and nothing turns out well for any of them.

Much of the play takes place in the local bar to which they all repair after work. The bartender is also an industrial casualty: he was injured in the plant and forced out on disability after many years spent working there. 

Some of the ending is telegraphed in the opening scene but there remains plenty of anticipation and some suspense as to how the story reaches that conclusion. The writing is good and it captures the way workers in factories approach their situation. In one sense, their characters explain by their lines why this group of Americans feels they have been totally run over and ignored by the power structure and thus turn to candidates like Trump and Sanders whom they feel may just do something for the forgotten people.

Most of the cast is the same as appeared in the Oregon theater premiere last year. They are uniformly excellent and perhaps that is owed to Kate Whoriskey's direction. This play made me recall those dramas that tried to show how working people feel and behave, plays like Miller's Death of a Salesman and  Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. This one is in a league with them--it may not be quite as overwhelming in impact but it is mighty powerful.

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