(David Smith’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/17.)
When playwright Lynn Nottage began work on Sweat, Bernie Sanders was a little-known socialist senator, Donald Trump was a reality TV host and neither had a snowball in hell’s chance of reaching the White House.
But Sweat, currently playing at the Arena Stage in Washington, is a drama whose time has come. The play is based on Nottage’s interviews with residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which in 2011 was ranked the poorest city in America. It focuses on a group of friends whose jobs at the local steel mill are threatened by the decline of American manufacturing.
The 2016 presidential election has been dominated by alienation and anger towards the elites, with Sanders and Trump acting as lightning rods. “I would say that one of the things that America has gone through is that white middle-class men are losing a sense of identity and of their supremacy,” Nottage, 51, tells the Guardian. “I think that’s why Donald Trump is someone they gravitate towards because he speaks like a fascist and he’s a nativist and all those things.”