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Student Blog: Lynn Nottage's 'Sweat': Watching Then Reading

Sabrina Duke shares her experience trying to analyze the play "Sweat" a year and a half after seeing the work.

Student Blog: Lynn Nottage's 'Sweat': Watching Then Reading

During the first semester of my freshman year, I saw The University of Iowa's rendition of Sweat. I remember feeling anxious as I sat next to my friend and waited for the lights to dim. I didn't know anything about the play, and this was my first University of Iowa production. I didn't know what to expect.

Five minutes later, a white man with a swastika tattoo on his forehead faced the audience. I remember thinking "welcome to college" as I struggled to watch the scene, unable to take my eyes off the horrifying symbol that sat center stage. As the play continued, this image loomed in my head. Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, a city once considered the poorest for it size in the United States, Sweat jumps between the years 2008 and 2000. It tells the story of how big corporations and politics divide and diminish a seeming inseparable group of factory workers. It discusses themes of race, class, and nationalism. Like how an audience watches a murder mystery to discover "who done it," Sweat's audience stays in their seat to learn how the characters get to 2008. The plot does not disappoint. I don't want to spoil Sweat, but I'll say during the climax, it took a lot of energy to not cover my eyes and ears until it was over. It was very intense. Sweat is the kind of theatrical experience that stays with you, something that later would become a blessing and a curse.

At the beginning of this semester, I received the syllabus for my Interpretations of Literature class. The last book on our schedule was Sweat. I could still vividly remember moments from the play and was excited to discuss them in more detail. I had taken Script Analysis before, so I knew there was a difference between reading and watching a play. And yet, as we began our discussions, I wanted so badly to try and make my classmates, none of whom had seen Sweat, understand the affect this play had on me. Contrary to what one may think, I found myself having very little to add to the conversation. My emotional understanding and connection to the work made me unable to separate the production I had seen with the words on the page. So, I did something I don't do nearly enough; I sat back and listened. As I listened, I was reminded of the versatility of theatre. A play can adapt for each actor and audience. That's part of what makes being a theatre goer so exciting-seeing the same work twice but performed in different ways. But truly great plays transfer to non-theatre related classrooms, where lines are not necessarily dissected for their emotional meaning, but instead how they serve the characters, reveal themes explored by the playwright, and connect to the world from which the themes are drawn. Sometimes, I wished could do this. Other times, I didn't, because seeing Sweat is an experience I hope to never forget.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Sabrina Duke