My Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column is about Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s new play. Here’s an excerpt.
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Here’s my number-one recommendation for life in the Age of Trump: Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” now playing at New York’s Public Theater through Dec. 18, should transfer to Broadway as soon as an uptown theater becomes available. It’s a play about the unemployed steel workers of Reading, the Pennsylvania city that has become synonymous with deindustrialization—and it opened at the Public just a week before the election. Beyond its high quality as a work of art, what makes “Sweat” so significant is that Berks County, Pa., of which Reading is the county seat, went for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 93,094-75,169. Eight years ago it went for Barack Obama over John McCain, 97,047-80,513. Between them, those numbers say a great deal about the 2016 presidential race, which is why Mr. Trump’s victory won’t have taken you wholly by surprise if you saw “Sweat” prior to last Tuesday.
But while Ms. Nottage has written a political play in the broadest sense, the key to understanding “Sweat” is not that its author is black, or a political progressive. While both these things are true, “Sweat” was written prior to Mr. Trump’s emergence as the leader of the Republican pack, and he goes unmentioned in the play, which takes place between 2000 and 2008. Nor did Ms. Nottage write “Sweat” to persuade anyone to do anything in particular. Her purpose was simply to show us how the people of Reading feel, and to try to explain why they feel that way.
To this end, she did something that playwrights too often fail to do: She went to Reading and talked to the people about whom she was writing. More important, she listened to them—hard….
Ms. Nottage’s open-eared reporting is part of what makes “Sweat” so good. But most of what makes it good is that it’s an impeccably solid piece of theatrical work—tightly structured, free of wordy sermonizing, full of surprises. The drama is personal, a story of real people pushed into a corner, and broader implications are left unspoken….
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Read the whole thing here.
Lynn Nottage talks about her research for Sweat: