Lynn Nottage’s Sweat left me shook. It brilliantly captured the debilitating sense of frustration of those trapped at the hands of giant corporations, making it very easy for its audience to empathise with the characters. It was so jarring sometimes though because you just knew that the characters were fighting the wrong people. Instead of trying to understand where Cynthia and Oscar were coming from – as ultimately, Cynthia was striving to get justice for her friends even if she was forced to physically stand against them, and Oscar in reality had no reason to align himself with the factory workers as they certainly didn’t do so for him when he needed them to – Tracey, Jessie, Chris, and Jason fought them recklessly and endlessly. This part of the plot was particularly striking as the actors excellently demonstrated how this sort of mentality tears apart relations and in the end benefits nobody. But despite how I felt because of their misdirected anger, Sweat dealt with this problem so skilfully through its demonstration of how futile it is to destroy each other when we are on the same team. It was so interesting though because this problem isn’t plucked out of thin air. “The blame game” is so deeply ingrained in our society. It helped fuel a large portion of Americans to vote for Trump out of entitlement and fear that the ‘Immigrants were taking their jobs’, as well as some votes for Brexit for the same reason. Ultimately, this kind of thinking only perpetuates more harm and more hatred for everyone involved.
“ The question raised from this is: what is America now? Or what was it ever? depending on who is being asked.”
Sweat also masterfully encompassed the sense of betrayal felt by many workers when they are forced to choose between lower wages and leaving a company that they have been with for the majority of their lives. This adds to the looming feeling of instability in the play that hung over the heads of almost all the characters. Tracey says that’s she is “a worker”, that being a worker is deeply rooted in her identity, and for her, and the rest of the factory workers, to be faced with such a grave ultimatum only proves their expendability and their lack of worth in the eyes of massive corporations. But there’s also something specifically poignant about this and that’s the fact that Jessie wanted to travel the world and truly live her best life. However, she never got that chance and is, even at the age of 43, haunted by what she never had. This scene actually made me sad. So many of us grow up with the desire to not have a mundane and repetitive job, because we want to work in a sector that we love and are passionate about. Yet often we end up doing exactly what we didn’t want to do in order to sustain ourselves, and in turn never get to fulfil what we dreamed of doing whether out of the lack of expenses, practicality, or both. In this moment, the theatre was filled with an air of sympathy for Jessie, but also for ourselves, because it is no secret that the working world isn’t nice and sees no reason to be.
But one thing I really want to talk about is the ending. Not the big, violent climax leaving the entire audience literally on the edge of their seats, but rather the aftermath of it. The play ends with George W. Bush’s speech stating that “elected officials will rise to the occasion…we’ll show them the type of country America is”, and as the house lights come on, Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ comes ringing through the speakers. I loved this. Firstly, because ‘This is America’ is a great song, but also because it was so ironic and so telling to choose to play this song. ‘This Is America’ was released in 2018, the play was written in 2015, and is set between 2000 – 2008. This just goes to show that really and truly, nothing much has changed for the working class in America. Despite all of Trump’s boasts about the economy growing (so that the 1% can buy superyachts – yes, this is true, and superyachts really are a thing), the American people aren’t actually prospering. The working class aren’t actually getting richer as wages aren’t rising. There are still vast amounts of instability and there is still an increasing sense of unrest due to exploitation at the hands of businesses. The special thing about Sweat is that even though it is a play revolving around fictional characters, the stories are true. Lynn Nottage put a face and a name to the working-class collective who are able to identify with the problems raised. Anyway, the question raised from this is: what is America now? Or what was it ever? depending on who is being asked. I think that some may say that it is the land of the free, where dreams can really be made, but others would definitely agree with the argument that America is and almost always has been, a land of pain, a land of exploitation, a land of blood, sweat and tears.