Arts

Pittsburgh Public Theater Premieres Lynn Nottage’s ‘Sweat’ in the Steel City

By November 6, 2018 No Comments

Director Justin Emeka stands center in the rehearsal room for “Sweat” (Current photo by: Jake Mysliwczyk)

By Amanda Reed
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
amanda@pittsburghcurrent.com

For Patrick Cannon, who plays Jason in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, the production feels like home in more ways than one.

The second-year Point Park MFA student grew up in Sheridan and graduated from West Allegheny High School. Pittsburgh Public was where he made his professional debut after graduating from Columbia College of Chicago.

“I got my Equity card through a production of [Thornton Wilder’s] ‘Our Town’ here,” he says. “And that production has stayed with me and in a lot of ways, but mainly through the network of people I was able to meet.”

Running at the O’Reilly Theater from Nov. 8 to Dec. 9, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, takes place between 2000 to 2009. It explores the lives of nine friends, whose friendship is challenged by layoffs and lockouts at Olstead’s Steel Tubing in Reading, Pennsylvania.

‘Sweat’. Pittsburgh Public Theater. O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. $30-$80.412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org

Sweat is Nottage’s second Pulitzer Prize-winning play. She also received the prize in 2009 for Ruined, about the plight of women in the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Nottage remains the first and only woman to win the prize twice.

The Pittsburgh premiere of the play is director Justin Emeka’s second time helming the production. He last directed it in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, which ends its run four days before the Pittsburgh premiere.

Although the words on the page are the same, the new space and the people breath a different life into the performance, according to Emeka.

“Really being able to dig into the play with two different casts, two different companies, has been a very rewarding and enlightening experience as a director,” he says. “I can read the character on page all day long but I really don’t know what that character is going to be until I meet the actor.”

But, the themes of the play ring true wherever it’s performed.

“It sort of addresses racial inequalities, class inequalities, nationality inequality, social mobility how we define what it means to be an American, who gets an invitation into the American dream,” he says. “And then it also reveals a little bit of the nightmare that can sometimes sneak into the American dream.”

With the city’s connection to steel and blue-collar life — both prevalent in Sweat — Emeka hopes that audiences will be able to make some connection to the play.

“Part of the excitement is seeing how the audience sees this play in these current times,” he says, referencing the show’s opening comes right after midterm elections.

After each performance, the theater’s bar will stay open for Second Round, giving theater-goers a chance to connect and tell their stories.

“It’s less about doing a typical talk and more about letting people for whom the play has a particular resonance a place to share those resonances,” Ned Moore, artistic engagement associate at the Public, says.

Emeka says this informal post-show chat gives audience members a way to connect that is not possible online, bringing personal connection back into real life.

“So often in the culture we’re living in today, we experience art all by ourselves, a lot of the times on the Internet or at home in our living room,” he says.

With its parallels to Pittsburgh history, Cannon says the audience will be taken aback about how much they know the people onstage.

“I’ll go as far as saying that there are very few shows that I think encapsulate pockets of our community the way the show does,” he says.

 

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