Sweat, by Lynn Nottage

A couple of weekends ago I saw SWEAT, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage, on Broadway. I had no idea what it was about but I’d heard everything from “weird” to “intense.” It was no at all what I was expecting. It was about a group of friends in the factor town of Reading, PA and how they’re adversely affected by NAFTA. Could it be more timely? I think not. Anyways, here’s my brain dump on it:

This piece reminded me a lot of Clyborne Park, probably because of the timeline of the plot. Clyborne Park took place in two different decades and although Sweat switched between past and present, both pieces used time jumps to show how things have declined in their respective neighborhoods.

Sweat was the perfect representation of racism in America, especially after there are layoffs and people who look like immigrants are hired because said-immigrants are desperate for higher paying jobs. The promotion of one of the African American member of the primary group of friends also brings out her friend’s true colors (“they get tax breaks because she’s a minority”).

The ensemble cast was ace, with not a weak link onstage from where I was sitting, and these characters go for a ride on a very emotional rollercoaster. Shitty acting would’ve made this unwatchable.

There’s excellent writing onstage at Studio 54 to bring to life something that’s very current. It’s over two hours, but it flies. It’s playing through June 4th.

I accepted a last-minute invite to see Eclipsed, a recent transfer from the Public Theatre, last Thursday night, and I knew pretty much nothing about it. I’d read that it was about women in Liberia so I knew it probably wasn’t going to be a comedy. I also knew Lupita Nyong’o was in it and although I didn’t remember her in 12 Years a Slave specifically (I saw the movie once years ago), I knew I was in for a treat.

Written by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira, it took place during the political conflict in Liberia in 2003 and focused on four wives of a commanding officer of the rebels. The newest wife was Lupita and she was actually educated meaning she could read and captured after her parents were taken (I think). The wives live together in a hut and are basically just there to satisfy the CO when he needs it. 

After the conflict ends, Lupita needs to decide whether to go with the rebels or go to safety. We’re not sure which she ends up choosing. The play was intense and depressing interspersed with moments of comedic relief. All five women were excellent, especially Lupita. Saycon Sengbloh has come a long way since Wicked

This wouldn’t be my first choice for a night out at the theatre, but it was definitely a powerful piece, as well as educational. 

This is not your mother’s Avenue Q or even your Book of Mormon. Hand to God is the darkest and most perverse thing on Broadway right now. Set in a small nondescript town in the American south, Hand to God is about a group of kids in a puppet club that meets in the basement of a church once a week and how one hand named puppet takes over Jason’s life and wreaks havoc on the group.

There are moments of laugh out loud hilarity. There’s a line in the first scene that had Kristen and I rolling on the floor for a good five minutes. We also nearly lost our shit during a scene change in the second act (really, Kristen almost died). But in between these moments of absolute hilarity, it drags a bit. It’s really dark and depressing. There are puppets, but not like in Avenue Q and there’s no cute score to go along with it. When the lights went up for intermission we still had no idea what we were watching or why (OK, the “why” is because we bought tickets, but you know what I mean).

The puppet wreaks havoc on the group and after some (er, a lot of) bloodshed, the puppet is thrown off the floor and Jason rushes with his mother to the hospital, claiming that if his possessed puppet hand comes back to life, she will help him. Black out. Then the stage is black and only the puppet head and hands appear. It’s incredibly creepy, and startling, and awesome.

The puppet gives a few minute monologue that MAY have brought the show together for me. It’s about how people started off sacrificing sheep to absolve themselves of their sins but when they realized they were wasting sheep, they decided to use a person and thus, the concept of Jesus was born. The puppet was definitely sneering at the audience and attempting to make us question our own thoughts about life and religion. Was he saying that we used different puppets in life to absolve ourselves of our sins? Or are we the puppets being controlled by some force that may not exist?

Steven Boyer was FANTASTIC as Jason and he better get a lot of nominations this season. Geneva Carr, Michael Oberholtzer, Sarah Stiles, and Marc Kudisch were all great too. Special shout out to Sarah Stiles who is always hilarious in anything she does.

Because this is a play that is dark and at times gruesome with a hard-to-grasp ultimate point, I don’t see this lasting very long, but who knows. I can imagine a lot of confused southern tourists going to see it thinking it’s going to be a happy show about god. That said: see it while you can. It’s worth seeing.