Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance presents Sweat, the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner from celebrated playwright Lynn Nottage. In 2014 the School of Theatre and Dance produced By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and hosted Nottage on campus for a talkback and discussion of her previous works. By that time, Nottage would have been nearing the end of her research for this project, which she began in 2011.
Sweat is set in, and inspired by, Reading, Pennsylvania, a town long fueled by steel mills, coal mines, the railroad, and factory work. Shifts in the economy have devastated these industries and the Reading residents that provided the backbone of labor. Now these individuals, who have become known collectively as “the forgotten man,” feel abandoned by their government. Nottage spent a large amount of time in the city to interview an array of citizens and understand the history of these events.
With history as a backdrop, Sweat follows the story of a close group of friends and is centered in the bar where they have shared many drinks and moments. Second- and third-generation workers and longtime union advocates must contend with racial tensions and breaches of trust as they fight to stay afloat over the economic realities of surviving without their long-held institutions. The warmth in this community is quickly tested after one individual is promoted to management and the factory begins pursuing the bottom line over the workers. Union forces rally, but picket lines cannot line pockets, and ultimately the people of Reading suffer a blow that they have yet to get back up from. Everyone tries to hold onto something as the institutions that built their world abandon them.
Sweat will be presented at Westhoff Theatre on the campus of Illinois State University on November 8 and 12-16 at 7:30 p.m. and November 9 and 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Box Office located in the Center for the Performing Arts at 351 South School Street in Normal, by phone at (309) 438-2535, and online through Ticketmaster. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Free performance parking is available in the School Street Parking Deck in spots 250 and above, at 400 West Beaufort Street in Normal.