“Sweat” is an almost. It does the serious stuff well. An industrial town disintegrates for all the usual reasons. Former friends become enemies as factories shrink, jobs disappear and unions lose power. Crime, drugs and fights infect the community. Sounds like a fun night out at the theater, doesn’t it?

What “Sweat” doesn’t do as well is tell stories. It tells them earnestly, but too predictably. Where’s the dramatic conflict? The character development? The surprise? To me, it comes off less as a play than a textbook – OK, class, here’s Lesson 27: Analyze Reading, Pennsylvania, as it Succumbs to Globalization, Technology and Private Equity Greed.

That said, the evening is not without value. The nine-person ensemble performs quite well. One could carp that unnecessary repetition of almost every point (OK, we get it!) extends the play’s length by a good 30 minutes. An even smaller carp is discovering that the working-class bar, the principal set, is visibly stocked with (very non-working-class) premium whiskies (e.g., The Macallan Scotch?).

If you want to see a perfect contemporary drama that also takes place in a working-class bar, hope that the now-closed 2015 London production of Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen” transfers to Broadway some day.

Ben Rosen


3 Responses to “Sweat”

  1. We saw this in the off-Broadway version at the Public, and I agree with Ben’s comments, so I’m guessing it hasn’t changed much in its move to Broadway.
    Playwright Lynn Nottage’s Ruined (2009 Pulitzer winner) was amazing, so maybe I went into Sweat with expectations set too high. I didn’t see Hangmen, so I’m glad to know about it now. I thought Skeleton Crew early last year (by Dominique Morisseau)treated the same topic well but set in the factory breakroom rather than a town bar; and also August Wilson’s Jitney deals with a similar theme of job loss in that stratum. Clearly the issue resonates.

  2. We saw it at the Public Theatre, loved Ruined and admire Lynn Nottage who is now teaching at Columbia’s Graduate School of the Arts. We left at half time. The issue for us is that we’re left with the problem and not a hope that there is a solution.

  3. Ben – Guess what… McDonagh’s Hangmen is coming to the Atlantic next spring!

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