SWEAT, the latest play by Lynn Nottage that started life at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and went on to New York’s Public Theater, is now on Broadway. And that’s great. But is Broadway the right place for this play? Maybe not.
SWEAT is partly about what we would now call “Trump voters” – under-skilled white workers who feel they are losing out to “minorities”. There are plenty of other ethnicities and plots in the play as well – it is by no means only about lower skilled whites. But that is part of the story. Nottage was years ahead of the current political moment, though now that we’re here we might forget that. But in some ways what has happened in the years since she started this important project has made for a less receptive overall audience.
Imagine a billboard in Times Square: “Angry white factory voters lash out!” Feel like buying a ticket? Probably not.
Which could account for why the official marketing of the show now seems to be doing everything possible to avoid saying a single word about what the play actually covers.
Here’s the sum total of the show description from sweatonbroadway.com:
SWEAT, the critically acclaimed new play from Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lynn Nottage, comes to Broadway following its sold-out run at The Public Theater. The New York Times hails it as “an extraordinarily moving drama throbbing with heartfelt life.” Kate Whoriskey’s “assured and emotionally vibrant staging” (Time Out New York) illuminates this “perfectly written” (The New Yorker) play that takes place at a pivotal moment in America.
Filled with warm humor and tremendous heart, SWEAT tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets and laughs while working together on the factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat.
Don’t miss this groundbreaking drama from Lynn Nottage (“as fine a playwright as America has” — The Wall Street Journal) that “goes where few playwrights have dared to go” (Variety).
That’s it. No white supremacists here! It’s all about “warm humor” and “tremendous heart”. Well, actually it’s not.
It’s odd that the producers seem to be trying to soft pedal what the play is actually about. And to be fair to them, they may be right. SWEAT has been going for 50% off since day 1 and still is the week after opening – never a good sign.
It could be that this good but not great play about a subject that could not be any more pressing is simply not right for the cheese fest laugh-a-thon that is (mostly) Broadway these days.
Would it be doing better if Clinton had won? Probably.