When I first read Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play Sweat last May, I immediately thought that this play is a play designed to heal. Fast forward to 8 months later and I re-encounter this play as a potential understudy for the roles of Chris and Evan and it was the medicine that I needed as I had just experienced a tragedy in my family due to gun violence. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “It’s true; this play is designed to heal!”
That audition experience gave me the permission to use whatever I was feeling and mirror the characters in the play, especially Chris and Jason. Every single event about loss, betrayal, love, expansion, aspirations, race, prejudice, bigotry, dogma, drugs, incarceration, complacency, politics in my past lived in the letters, the punctuation, the spaces, the metaphors and the phrases of Lynn Nottage at that moment. Methought (in my British dialect), if I feel this by reading and performing it, then imagine what the theatergoers might feel sitting in their seats.
Once I got into the space of Studio 54 to start understudy rehearsals, those events, race, politics, etc, came rushing right back. However they weren’t directed towards any one person. They were real questions that needed to be answered in order for more people to have their own healing experience in life. These people were not the theatergoers, not the ushers or the actors on stage. These questions belonged to the understudies.
We had so many questions from whether or not a specific character in the play was a racist or prejudice to what would you have done in that situation. In that one session, we understudies realized that night, underground in our dressing room, that we (humans) all have a level of prejudice. The next question then became, when does our prejudice mind turn into racial activity? And is being prejudice the cause to the effect (racial activity)?
Way down under in our cozy dressing room, we the understudies ask questions about these American themes in the play every night. Well, not every night but most nights when we're not running lines so diligently. We ask questions and it never gets old to us. We might get heated like the characters in the play do but what makes it all magical and worthwhile is the fact that my fellow understudies and I get to have a dialogue that people out in the world might be too afraid or dogmatic to have. Several of my cast mates expressed how they felt so much better about being able to talk about these various topics now because previous times they had been shamed out of being allowed to speak about them. This play has brought this need to open one's vision and quite possibly un-shame the shamed. That's what the power of a timely piece of magnificent theater has done to a group of people. There is no need for dogma in our space. Rupert Sheldrake said, "A dogmatic assumption inhibits inquiry." My advice to those thinking about seeing this play is once you do see it, feel free to inquire everything, even if it's fixed and people assume it can't, won't or will never change.
Sweat, by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, directed by Kate Whoriskey is playing a critically acclaimed run at Broadway’s Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street).
With warm humor and tremendous heart, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets and laughs while working together on the line of a factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in the hard fight to stay afloat.
Sweat has also been nominated for three Tony Awards® including Best Play, two nominations for Best Featured Actress in a Play (Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson); three Drama League Awards: Distinguished Production of a Play and Distinguished Performance (Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson); three Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding Broadway Play, Outstanding Director of a Play (Kate Whoriskey), and Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play (Johanna Day); and two Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play.
About the author:
RASHAD EDWARDS (u/s Chris, Evan). Broadway Debut. Off-Broadway: Bullet for Adolf Box. Film/TV: "Madam Secretary," "Person of Interest," Oxy Morons, The Music Never Stopped, A NY Thing. BA, Prairie View A&M University, MFA, NYU Graduate Acting.
Follow Rashad on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/TheReelRashad