Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-winning, Reading-set 'Sweat' to break out at Philadelphia Theatre Company

SWEAT19
(Left to right:) Kimberly Scott, Kevin Kenerly, Tara Mallen, and Johanna Day in a 2015 production of Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat” at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama will play in two theaters in the Philadelphia area during the 2018-2019 season.

Anybody going to Edinburgh? Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs Aug. 3-27 this year. Three thousand performances in more than 300 venues! Music, drama, what-the-heck-is-it! I’ll be there. You? I’m writing an article about local folks going this year, so if you are, please be in touch!

‘Sweat’ breaks out in Philly. It’s remarkable. Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat will enjoy major productions at two theaters in the 2018-19 season: at Philadelphia Theatre Company (Oct. 12-Nov. 4) and People’s Light in Malvern (Jan. 16-Feb. 10).

Deeply researched, deeply felt, Sweat explores the fate of Reading, Pa., and its people when manufacturing shuts down and new residents begin to change the landscape. To create it, Nottage, a leader in the community-derived theater movement, embedded herself and a team of assistants in Reading, interviewing residents and absorbing local history and culture. Her work, going on for almost eight years now, has led to Sweat and the much-lauded This Is Reading, a seven-part, multi-site arts blowout there last July.

For PTC, Sweat is a bold move: It’s the first fully self-produced play there since artistic director Paige Price came aboard in April 2017. After the semi-dark 2017-18, Sweat kicks off a season that is all self-produced. The cast, directed by Justin Emeka, is a local all-star team, including Kittson O’Neill, Kimberly Fairbanks, Suli Holum, Brian Anthony Wilson, Matteo Scammell, Walter DeShields, J. Hernandez, Damien Wallace, and Rich Hebert.

It’s no secret that PTC has embarked on a journey of self-rediscovery to redefine its mission, brand, and audience. So why Sweat now? “Anyone who is awake needs to see this play,” Price says. “The potential for an explosive night of theater is really what drew me to this piece.” It’s a Pennsylvania story, after all. “It pulls no punches, revealing complex issues and deep passions in a story that is playing out, with slight variations, in communities all over America.”

O’Neill says the cast is on a road trip to Reading this week. The Australian branch of her own family, she says, “experienced first-hand the tragedy that happens when work leaves, when pride in your work goes away, when you lose where you live and who you are. That family history makes Sweat that much more profound for me.”

DeShields says, “We have these towns throughout Pennsylvania, towns like Reading, Pottstown, Braddock, where industry provided not just employment, but also culture and identity. What if I lose more than a job – but also this pride in self and work, this identity I thought I could pass on to my kids? And what happens when new people come in to the community? This play explores all that.”

As for the cast, O’Neill says, “It’s amazing. I’ve been wanting to share a stage with Kimberly Fairbanks forever.” And DeShields says, “Everything I’ve done in theater has built up to this.”