Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Sweat’ debuts at Huntington
Playwright Lynn Nottage’s powerful play “Sweat” opens at the Huntington Avenue Theatre Jan. 31 and runs through March 1. The Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-nominated play focuses on a factory town in Reading, Pennsylvania. As jobs become scarce, the community tries desperately to stay together as economic and racial tensions tear at their bonds.
Local actor Brandon Green plays Chris, the son of one of the female protagonists. Chris comes from a long line of factory workers and currently works at the same factory as his mother, but he longs to break free from the chain and work as a teacher instead.
The role hits close to home in a number of ways, he says. He has been a theater teacher to young people for over five years and understands Chris’ passion for the profession. Green’s uncle was also a longtime factory worker and Green often saw that lifestyle firsthand. “I’m drawn to his resilience. After all that’s happened to him, all he’s gone through, he still wants to make things right,” says Green. “I can relate to that.” Green also notes that Chris’ mother reminds the actor of his own and the strong bond they share.
Nottage began working on the play in 2011 and it premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015. She interviewed residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which at that time was one of the poorest cities in America. During its debut and 2017 Broadway run, critics noted that the characters are would-be Trump voters and that the show explores the concerns of those individuals.
“Things fall apart and then people do,” says Green. “In our poor communities, our working-class communities, once the jobs leave, what else do you have to do? That begins to fracture people.” He also notes that the play fluctuates between 2000 and 2008, and that the minimum wage in the United States has barely changed since then, while expenses have risen dramatically. While Massachusetts may plan to raise minimum wage, the housing crisis illustrates how these disparities are alive and well in Boston today.
As political, economic and racial divides continue to deepen five years after Nottage debuted the show, Green hopes viewers can see the common humanity in the characters and in each other. “I hope [the audience] can come away with a deeper level of empathy for the workers in this world. We don’t always take a moment to look someone in the eye and look deeper,” says Green. “We’re still all in this together.”