Taking place at a dive bar in Pennsylvania, Sweat portrays a meeting between a parole officer and two ex-convicts, as well as three women who were childhood friends and now work together in the same factory. Filled with warm humor and tremendous heart, Sweat tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets, and laughs while working together on the factory floor. The play examines the disintegration of a friendship, after two of the women – one white, one black – apply for the same management job. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat.
Nottage began working on Sweat in 2011 by interviewing residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, which at the time was one of the poorest cities in America with a poverty rate over 40%. She was influenced by Occupy Wall Street and wanted to explore the effects on residents of the loss of heavy industry and the changing ethnic composition of the city.
Sweat premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, Off-Broadway in 2016 and made its Broadway debut in 2017. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the same year. Time Out Chicago calls it “a portrait of blue-collar collapse and an inquiry into the cold-blooded murder of the American Dream. Chief among the many culprits is a capitalist system that treats workers like disposable parts. But when those workers don’t stand together, they look for easier targets to blame—including, usually, people who don’t look like them."