Sweat by Lynn Nottage

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Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage uses her dramatic prowess to toss around the nature of the work environment in the modern America by merging life dynamics of race, humanity and economy in the 21st Century. In a setting depicting the dynamics in the economic and demographic advancement in the new political dispensation, Lynn Nottage uses a set of characters who represent the variants of the American society ranging from ex-convicts to divorcees (Nottage, 2015).  The rift in the cultural and religious facets of the American society are contrasted by the characters from the beginning to show the void in the fabric of the American life. The precisely designed characters portray a distinct aspect of the American society. Most of the characters work in the city factory which has been operational for a long time offering a source of livelihood to generations but as time goes, the factory has been facing woes which threaten the aged comfort.

Across the script Nottage has shifted the ensemble chronologically by running narrative plots in the disruptive flow of events.  Nonlinear narrative is well introduced as Noggate tosses us with events between 2000 and 2008 with a conversations taking place in a different scenes form the other events (Nottage, 2015). She encompasses a mix of fast forwarding and flashbacks in the script as seen in the opening where we are introduced to tow ex-convicts Josh and Chris having a prologue with Evan a parole officer. The main plot takes place at a bar which is a center of the city that is faced with the risk of extinction as the main source of livelihood crumble slowly. The plots are well connected as each character represents a particular aspect of society. Both Jason and Chris are ex-convict but Chris seems to be turning over a new leaf when he gets saved to try and solve his problems. This however does not augur well with Jason who portrays white supremacy since coming out of eight-year jail term. Despite the trauma faced by both gentlemen, a clear shift of direction occurs when Chris decides to better his life and enrolls for college studies contrary to Jason’s expectations (Nottage, 2015). With tattoos etched all over his face and neck, Jason seems to lack a vision for his life and is angered when asked about his plans for life and general wellbeing by the parole officer.

The scene then shifts to a bar favored by the industry workers who join regularly to have a chat and share their problems. In the bar we are introduced to three ladies who seem to have the same foundation of schooling and general life experience. The episodic structure shifts the scene but are linking them by themes and characters who share a history. At the bar, the long scene is driven by plot which drives the themes of racial supremacy battle, labour issues and politics. Both characters and themes intertwine and proliferate the different scenes to create episodic. The bar being the main place where the longest scene takes place, all the characters assemble alternatively in a sub plot that expands the action by an exposition that introduces new characters, setting and essential information. In this scene, we are introduced to Tracey, Jason’s Mother and Cynthia, Chris’ mother who both went to the same school (Nottage, 2015). They are friends from childhood and they all work in the factory as their parents. Celebrating Tracey’s birthday at the bar in the company of Jessie who has become a drunkard since her marriage break up, the women and their city colleagues are trying to come into terms with the current events with poverty and hardship biting hard in the city.

Unsettling change ensures in the air when a managerial position is advertised and Cynthia expreses her interest in the post.Tracey is however not pleased,”…management is for them…not us “she object. She however cynically goes ahead and applies for the job but fails to get the managerial position (Nottage, 2015). A rift wedges between the women when Cynthia who apparently speaks Spanish secures a managerial position in the factory and ends up having to face Tracey who seems to thinks that she is got the job because of color. The issue of racial supremacy is well covered as Tracey was also an applicant to the post but failed to secure the position who grows resentful as she would be supervised by Cynthia, a colleague. She becomes rude and throws racially discriminatory statements when she asks the bar-back, an immigrant if he knows any Puerto Rican that could hire to burn he house down, “if the urge arises.” This is the epitome of thematic racial supremacy as Tracey despises the bar-back because of color. Oscar too expresses his interest in a nonunion job that ends up heightening the tension with the two Jason and Chris vexed by the news (Nottage, 2015). The desire for success seems to drills rifts as those who seem to be well suited for new positions don’t end up getting them while the lesser ones get the jobs.

In another episodic turn, Chris and Jason apparently work in the factory that is the one of the few still operational. With a flashback to 2000, Chris and Jason’s mother reconstruct the years of had work and painful work. They all seem stuck to the factory which has been a source of both life and pain for decades. Tracey recounts the loss of her husband who also worked in the factory. There are also rumors of a possible factory lockout as the union continue to put pressure on the managers for better welfare (Nottage, 2015). The factory is opting move to Mexico due to the labour pressure surging in the town. The worker continues to accumulate debt but they nevertheless seem to be less weary of the developments in the city. There resides an unusual comfort on the workers who take the issues literally not seeing the city future is at stake.

The workers seem to be resentful of the government as there seem to be no changes no matter the ruling regime. Stan the bar attender pronounces that he will not vote, “I decided a month ago that I’m not voting, because no matter what lever I pull it will lead to disappointment.”

The fabric of society is at stake; drug abuse is biting the society cruelly with drinking at the top list. The rumors in the city of one of the workers who torched his house down due to drug overuse seem to have little significance in the regulars’ lives. They have seen a lot of problems to the extent of unusual complacency. Cynthia’s husband Brucie fought addiction after losing his job in the factory. Hopelessness bites the workers and the city at large to a great extent. There is a group of people who want to leave but they can’t as they lack the means let alone the finances to move only forced to condone with the situation. Some of the workers are in denial to see the old factory slowly shutting down given the generations it served. There is a clear rift as some adjust to the changes while the rest, mostly the racial supremacists, who think they are entitled to the factory positions. They fail to identify their best allies at the moment nonetheless, there continues to be selfishness amongst the workers despite the common danger of unemployment. News of jobs completely eliminated heightens anger and disappointments as union members get locked out of the factory premises. Dissatisfaction is evident ranging from racial violence to drug abuse. Tracey’s racial anger stems from the same pot as other workers; disappointment. attacks her friend Cynthia after securing a managerial position at the factory.

“A couple minutes, and your whole life changes …” Chris in disbelief cannot relate the flow of events taking place so fast in a city that was never prepaid for the economic changes. As a young black worker, a new life path had to be devised. With experience form his mother, he makes up his mind to go back to college and pursue further studies. White supremacists face the greatest challenge as they are filled with a lot of entitlement and privilege that they fail to see the clear picture. The long friendship with Jason becomes volatile similar to that of his mother Cynthia and Tracey due to the contrasted desires of success and changing their lives for the best. The people of Reading grew lesser protective and supportive of one another as time went by.

There is however an unusual optimism in the city as the men and women continue to wait for better days, and they are justified; the factory has been there for their great grandparents to their grandchildren. The workers hold a common ground of future prospects however bad the situation seems.




Nottage,  L.  Colbert, S. D. (2016). Sweat. A Critical Companion to Lynn Nottage, 200.





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