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Pulitzer Prize-winning drama opens at ESU Tuesday

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    Students rehearse a scene from “Sweat,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Lynn Nottage. “Sweat” depicts how a group of factory workers in Reading react to the financial pressures brought about by the decline of manufacturing jobs. East Stroudsburg University’s Theatre Department will present the play Tuesday through Sunday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published February 25. 2019 12:15PM


Lynn Nottage’s drama “Sweat,” which opens Tuesday and runs through Sunday at East Stroudsburg University, is one of the most compelling, gripping and truthful portrayals of life in America at the beginning of the 21st century, according to director Susan P. O’Hearn, professor of theater.

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama, “Sweat” focuses on factory workers in Reading who are facing the decline of manufacturing jobs. As financial pressures mount, old friendships fracture in an environment that divides workers along social and ethnic lines and pits one group against another for what remains of the American dream.

“From first moments to last, this compassionate but clear-eyed play throbs with heartfelt life, with characters as complicated as any you’ll encounter at the theater today, and with a nifty ticking time bomb of a plot,” noted New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood. “That the people onstage are middle-class or lower-middle-class folks — too rarely given ample time on American stages — makes the play all the more vital a contribution to contemporary drama.”

“You know the characters in this play and you identify completely with their hopes, dreams and aspirations,” said O’Hearn. “These people are very close friends, who have worked together for years, whose children have grown up together, but because of economic and political conditions they are being pushed to the brink and everything begins to unravel.”

One character, Tracey, is “an overworked woman who is trying to find anyone to blame for what’s happening to her. From situations like this, it’s easy to see how normal, everyday can be manipulated to find a scapegoat to blame.”

Brucie is “loved by everyone and wants to be a leader, but he’s hurting and beat down. In the end, he’s a quitter, but Brucie doesn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps so he encourages him to get out and follow his dreams.”

Marcell McKenzie, a senior majoring in musical theater from Kunkletown, plays Evan, “who also was born in Berks County, like everyone else in the play, but is not part of the factory world. As a parole officer, Evan has found his place and is not scrambling like the other characters. He understands their struggles and wants to help, but he’s a professional and needs to be tough to do his job right.”

“People will like the characters in this play,” O’Hearn said, “and they will be deeply affected by the drama. If you’re from Pennsylvania, you’ve likely experienced these in events in your lifetime or know someone who has. The play is not told as a lesson, but in a way that brings these characters alive in our hearts and minds.”

“Sweat” will be performed in the Dale Snow Theatre of ESU’s Fine and Performing Arts Center, Normal and Marguerite streets, East Stroudsburg. This play is recommended for mature high school students and adults.

Curtain times for the production are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are available online at (credit cards only online). For reservations or other information, email or call 570-422-3483.


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