Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson, Miriam Shor, Carlo Albán in The Public Theater’s production of Sweat. Photo by Joan Marcus.
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Cast: Carlo Albán, James Colby, Khris Davis, Johanna Day, John Earl Jelks, Will Pullen, Lance Coadie Williams, Michelle Wilson, Alison Wright
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Original Music, Sound Design: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
Projection Design: Jeff Sugg
First Performance March 4, 2017
Opening March 26, 2017
Final Performance June 25, 2017
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With warm humor and tremendous heart, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets and laughs while working together on the line of a factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in the hard fight to stay afloat.
Kate Whoriskey directs this stunning new play about the collision of race, class, family and friendship, and the tragic, unintended costs of community without opportunity.
Ben Brantley – New York Times
Though it is steeped in social combustibility, “Sweat” often feels too conscientiously assembled, a point-counterpoint presentation in which every disaffected voice is allowed its how-I-got-this-way monologue. And this thoughtful, careful play only seldom acquires the distance-erasing passion of Ms. Nottage’s “Ruined,” the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner about female casualties of the Congolese civil war.
Jeremy Gerard – Deadline
These are fully realized characters who, especially when acting on their worst fears, are grippingly human. Drawn in part from interviews the playwright and director conducted with workers in western Pennsylvania, Sweat never feels less than authentic — and crucial. That said, Sweat still suffers from preachiness and some stilted writing that raise the volume and add exclamation points where none are necessary. This seems to have worsened in the expansion to a Broadway house, where the speechifying, especially by Day’s overwrought Tracey, too often registers as harangue. Too much hollering.
Marilyn Stasio – Variety
In “Sweat,” Lynn Nottage goes where few playwrights have dared to go — into the heart of working-class America. Her insightfully observed characters all went to the same schools, work at the same factory, drink at the same bar, and are going to hell in the same hand basket. Their jobs, their community, and their way of life are doomed, in director Kate Whoriskey’s mercilessly realistic production, although no one seems to have gotten the message yet.
Chris Jones – Chicago Tribune
“Sweat” is inarguably a schematic socialist drama — and hardly the first to play at Broadway prices to mostly upper-middle-class urbanites — that clearly decided in advance what it wanted to say about the state of the nation. Its conclusion is not a surprise. But — and, along with a mordent wit, this is its mitigating strength and greatest asset — “Sweat” also is a moral, passionate and richly articulated cri de coeur from one of America’s leading African-American playwrights aimed squarely at the ongoing inability of her hate-spewing white brothers and sisters to accurately locate the cause of their problems and to quit seeking to drown the next worker trying to snag a spot in the lifeboat speeding away from the wreck of industrial America.
Robert Hofler – The Wrap
Frankly, Nottage is a better writer than either Rice or Odets. She’s not scoring points for some leftist, anti-capitalist screed. There’s nothing agitprop about her play, which could be retitled “Sweat, Liquor, and Then Crack.” Nottage takes a character like Tracey, whose family goes back for three generations in this Rust Belt town, as well as the factory itself, and makes us understand how this woman’s rage produced a son, Jason (Will Pullen), who ends up tattooing his face with white-supremacist graffiti. This revelation is not a spoiler. Nottage’s story begins with Jason’s parole, in 2008, then flips back and forth between then and 2000. That use of time is always illuminating, never a flashy device that obfuscates the real drama.
Matthew Murray – Talkin’ Broadway
But it’s to Nottage and Whoriskey’s credit that these minor issues don’t gum up the gears too much. What’s front and center is exactly what should be: the workers of the Olstead manufacturing plant in Reading, Pennsylvania, coping with the slow-but-steady dissolution of the town’s way of life and livelihood throughout the year 2000. (The constant platitudes from then-candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, Jr., form a key part of sound designers’ Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s background soundtrack, and Jeff Sugg’s period-setting projections.)
Caitlin Brody – Entertainment Weekly
Change is never easy, but for the residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, change means nothing short of utter demise. Sweat, a compelling new play from Lynn Nottage (Intimate Apparel and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined) takes place between 2000 and 2008, and follows the lives of three 40something women and two of their sons whose worlds have consisted of factory floors, stale cigarettes and shots of whiskey for generations. Guzzling watery beer and passing out into a drool-filled state at the local bar is just another day after work, much like their fathers and grandfathers experienced before them, and there’s pride in that. Sweat is a fascinating study of class and opportunity, or lack thereof.
Jesse Green – Vulture
Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which opens tonight on Broadway after a run last fall at the Public Theater, is a lot of great things: a deeply researched case history of the collapse of labor in America, a useful guide to understanding our own chaotic political moment, and a worthy attempt to put serious material before a wider public in a commercial environment. What it isn’t, I’m sorry to say, is a great play; though improved in some ways, it remains pretty much as I found it downtown: gripping but disappointing. Why?
Linda Winer – Newsday
Although the cameras soon moved on to sexier topics, the drama, now on Broadway, is just as meaningful, just as powerful, equally far-reaching and intimate.
Joe Dziemianowicz – NY Daily News
Broadway plays don’t get much more topical than “Sweat,” a portrait of lost American dreamers adrift in an economic wasteland. At Studio 54, the play grabs you with its ripped-from-the-headlines social and political resonance. It also loses its grip due to predictability and a miscalibrated staging.
Matt Windman – AM New York
In terms of performances, Kate Whoriskey’s finely textured production is a triumph of ensemble acting. Johanna Day is particularly effective in expressing her character’s shock, frustration and self-centered ego.
Tim Teeman – The Daily Beast
This excellent, highly charged play, written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and directed by Kate Whoriskey, was first seen on the New York stage at the Public Theater in November—only four months ago, and already, given its subject matter, it seems very long ago.