Pulitzer-winning "Sweat" looks at American factory life

Publication Date

The Department of Theater and Dance will present five performances of American playwright Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” a story that chronicles the lives of Pennsylvania factory workers who are affected by unions, immigration and outsourcing during one of the worst economic times in modern U.S. history.

SWEAT poster

The production, featuring students from every class year and a wide range of majors, will be staged in the Yulman Theater May 17-19 at 7:30 p.m., May 20 at 2:30 p.m. and May 21 at 1 p.m.

Some of these performances coincide with ReUnion Weekend (May 19-21). Tickets are on sale now.

Set between the years of 2000 and 2008 in a fictional bar in Reading, Pa., “Sweat” features a group of friends who have spent their lives working together at a steel mill but see their relationships shift when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust.

Nottage based the play on personal research and interviews. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Obie Award for playwriting in 2017.

The Union production marks its regional premiere.

Guest director is Jean Remy Monnay, producing artistic director of the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY. Like its playwright, he believes that “Sweat” is a quintessentially American story that could take place in any number of post-industrial cities.

“It has been an honor and great pleasure working with the students and crew of Union College to bring this story to life – to experience together the issues of race, struggling family, love, forgiveness, relationship, survival, immigrants and the working class in America,” he said.

A native of Haiti who settled in Brooklyn at 18 and moved to the Capital Region in 1997, Monnay also serves as an associate artist with Capital Rep in Albany and the Troy Foundry Theatre in Troy. He has appeared in more than 200 plays, films and commercials.

Andrew Mannion, interim artistic director of the Theater and Dance Department and scenic and video designer for the show, sees parallels between the industry depicted in “Sweat” and the General Electric Company.

GE’s investment in Schenectady between 1882 and 1945 ignited the city’s Golden Era, with a thriving community of professionals in engineering, science, business and the arts and a population that ballooned to 90,000 from 13,000.

“Reading, Pa., and Schenectady share very similar stories of small cities that were built around industry, then abandoned when companies started outsourcing to cheaper labor markets,” Mannion said. “By World War II, GE employed around 45,000 workers. By the year 2000, its workforce had shrunk to about 4,700.”

These scenarios hit home for Sarah Wright ’23, a biomedical engineering major who is the play’s assistant stage manager.

“As someone who has lived in a small town (Frankfort, N.Y.) for their entire life, I know people just like the characters Tracey, Stan, Jason and Oscar. There’s something so real and hard-hitting about this story. I fell in love with it as soon as I read it,” Wright said.

“The show sends an important message about how friends become foes in the face of adversity, the financial struggle of small-town America, and the impact of prejudiced thoughts and behaviors in a tight-knit community.”

Theater and English major Maggie Kelley ’24 appreciates the opportunity to work with guest director Monnay. “It gives us a different perspective of the theater world outside of Union,” she said. “And the play itself is a beautiful window into the lives of the people whom Nottage wrote to be so incredibly real. The relationships between the characters are so complicated, nuanced and interesting.”

Co-assistant director Melanie (Mel) De La Cruz ’26 echoes that sentiment.

“This story revolves around an era of Americans facing all sorts of uncertainty. It shows how the America then mirrors the America of today,” said De La Cruz, a double major in political science and theater. “It’s brutally honest, and I believe it’s why we do theater – to tell stories others haven’t seen and others have lived. I’m excited for this beautiful community of actors to demonstrate their hard-work on stage and share their love for theater with the audience.”

The acting ensemble also includes Delaney Beck ’23, Jolita Brettler ’25, Henry Devenport ’26, Jay Hernandez ’25, Vic Lucontoni ’26, Anthony Montas ’26, Spencer Newman ’25, Tremaine Richardson ’26, Lilian Ruggieri ’25, Brian Rusk ’25, Jennifer Vil ’26 and Shamil Williams ’26.

In addition to Mannion, Theater Department faculty involved in “Sweat” include Interim Chair Brittney Belz, who is overseeing costumes, hair and makeup; Andrew Bodd, technical director; Robin MacDuffie, scene shop foreman; and Keelie Sheridan, voice and acting coach. Elizabeth Schweitzer of New York City is guest lighting designer.

Angel Flores ’20 is stage manager, and Lucy Miller ’16 is fight choreographer. Maya Gempler ’23 is properties designer; Lily Wang ’24, sound designer; and Alanna Byrne ‘26, assistant stage manager. Charlie Jones is in charge of marketing.

“Sweat” tickets are general seating and are available for purchase through the Yulman Theater Box Office 1-2 p.m. Monday through Friday or through Eventbrite. They are $15 for general admission and $5 for those with a Union ID, alumni and senior citizens.

For more information, contact the Yulman Theater Box Office at boxoffice@union.edu, or call (518) 388-6545.

Please note: “Sweat” contains strong language and on-stage depictions of violence.