By: Isa Goldberg
“Number 1, I’m representing for women, and No. 2, I’m representing for playwrights of color,” Lynn Nottage expressed in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, following the announcement of her second Pulitzer win for drama. Indeed, Nottage is the first woman in history to receive two Pulitzers.
As with Ruined, for which she won her first, Sweat was developed through interviews with the people whose plight she represents on stage. Regarded as the first post Trump-era drama, the play takes place in Reading, PA, a steel-manufacturing town, where the factory is closing. Set in 2000 – 2008, the human drama reflects the issues that explain Trump’s Presidential victory – joblessness and economic despair, racism, immigration and hatred of the other, drug addiction.
Watching these characters transform from hopeful to deadened, is the playwright’s coup de theatre. Here, Khris Davis plays a young man about to start college, and a man condemned to prison for an act of violence. That they are both the same character is difficult to see at first. One wonders how the haggard criminal and the idealistic youth could be the same person. His partner in crime, played by Will Pullen, is even more disguised.
More potently, the victim of that violence, Stan, sensitively played by James Colby, turns from the pillar of the community – a warm, friendly, supportive bartender – into a brain dead restaurant worker. And the amazing Johanna Day, in a role that is significantly different from any other she has played on stage, takes a fall from a salaried factory worker who embraces life, to a hardened drug addict. The other characters who we meet in the bar are also convincingly portrayed by Carlo Alban, Michelle Wilson, and John Earl Jelks, among others.
Director, Kate Whoriskey, who also directed Ruined, helms this seamless production. Still, it’s the depth of humanity that Nottage brings to her characters that makes us feel as if everything that happens on stage happens in the moment.
Roundabout Theatre Company
254 W 54th Street in NYC (between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
Two hours and 25 minutes, including one intermission