After watching Lynn Nottage’s play Sweat, I left appreciative of the several themes that were tackled, some of which I had not seen before in a theatre production. These themes included the idea of the American Dream, addiction and race relations, which Nottage mixes all together into an enjoyable and engaging piece of drama, where during the whole play we see are able to grow closer and relate to the characters and better understand their motivations. Setting the play within an old, yet rejuvenated warehouse was a nice touch that I noticed, helped with my immersion in the plot. The seating was quite tightly packed and the closed environment, coupled with the several props of industrial hooks and machinery, made the play more believable and helped me imagine what it would have been like working along the production line.
Although the plot of the play tackled industrial unrest and economic decline, the majority of the play is set within a bar ran by bartender Stan. In a Western country such as USA, where drinking culture is prevalent, this seems a good fit for a location, through which the role of alcohol and drug use is explored. The play is loosely structured around the three older women’s birthdays spent in the bar – we see how drinking can be a form of celebration, yet it is also used as a way for the characters to forget their worries or ‘drown their sorrows’. However, I thought that alcohol is also something that brought all the characters together allowing them to connect and open up more. The characters don’t have fulfilling jobs, so they use alcohol as a way to replace their satisfaction and as a mechanism to help them reminisce on their past lives when they had hopes and aspirations. The theme of addiction is mostly embodied by the character Bruce, who perhaps fulfils the trope of a Shakespearian wise fool whose words are brushed off as the ramblings of an idiot, especially by Cynthia where she tells him not to influence their son. Yet, when listened to closely, he ultimately predicts the grim outcome in his speech about the imminent ‘storm’, which symbolises the factory owners ultimately forces the original workers out, cutting their wages and leaving them unemployed.
“ This shows the flaws of capitalism, in how these characters are not able to fulfil their hopes of living a ‘rags to riches’ American Dream.”
With the natural character development, we find out more about the characters’ pasts and how this affects their motivations. With the older generation, speaking about the past brings about a sort of nostalgia and we get to hear each their versions of the American Dream. Tracey talks about starting on the production line at 19 years old with all of her friends, in a simpler time where she was content making enough money to live comfortably while at the same time enjoying her youth. For Jessie, however, the American Dream represented her goal to trek across the world with her then boyfriend, able to see different cultures and explore life. However, both of these cases never actually came to fruition; Tracey’s dream could not last, obviously for the simple fact that you are not able to stay young forever; Jessie, on the other hand made a poor choice and we see her regret come through on her birthday as she says “she wonders what that Jessie on the other side of the world would be like”. This shows the flaws of capitalism, in how these characters are not able to fulfil their hopes of living a “rags to riches” American Dream, because they are trapped in a capitalist system, which does not provide them any social mobility.
Not only did the plot give deep insight into the flaws of the American economy, which inevitably led to the rise of Donald Trump, it was an extremely good play. Although the seats were quite uncomfortable, I soon forgot about that having been gripped for the entire two hours and thirty minutes, by the talented actors. I would definitely recommend this play for all people to come see. And I do look forward to seeing Lynn Nottage’s future works.