The Yale Dramatic Association on Thursday staged “Sweat,” the first Fall Ex of the semester, in the Yale Repertory Theatre.
“Sweat” is a 2015 play by Lynn Nottage DRA ’89, a writer who received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2017. The story is set in a neighborhood bar and traces the friendships and tensions within a group of working-class people in Reading, Pennsylvania. Scenes in the play switch between the years 2000 and 2008, and address race, class and parent-child relations against the backdrop of unemployment and financial crises.
The Dramat Exes are “experimental” student-directed and -produced plays. The name is a holdover from its original performance venue, and plays are not necessarily experimental in nature.
Producer Simon Rabinowitz ’22 originally conceived the idea to stage “Sweat” for a Dramat Fall Ex. Rabinowitz said he hopes the show will prompt viewers to consider the stories of people whose financial circumstances may differ significantly from that of many Yale students and their families.
“I want to be putting those stories in people’s minds, because at least for me personally, those would never occur to me if I didn’t try to seek them out,” Rabinowitz said. “What am I not hearing in the things I consume? What is never being said to me? I think ‘Sweat’ is one of those pieces that says things you don’t get to hear about.”
Each April, teams of student directors, producers and stage managers submit written proposals for the Fall Exes to the Dramat executive board. The board conducts interviews with the teams and selects two programs to be staged in the fall.
Dramat President Joseph Bosco ’20 said that “Sweat” addresses the ramifications of financial crises and how “bigger macroeconomic trends manifest in a very personal way.” This subject is particularly relevant at Yale, he said, where “we have people coming from all sorts of backgrounds mixing together and have to deal with coming from a diversity of places.”
Director Cleopatra Mavhunga ’22 said that each character in the play is complex and multi-layered.
“In the beginning, I had a very clear cut idea of what I thought each character was,” Mavhunga said. “But the more I kept reading it, the more I realized there’s no antagonist and there’s no protagonist. Every single person is both the villain and the hero of this story — and that made me love it even more.”
Bairon Reyes Luna ’22 plays Oscar, a young Latino worker who accepts a job at a factory for lower wages as older workers are laid off and locked out of the factory. He said he appreciates how the multi-dimensional nature of his character “adds an interesting element” to the social issues addressed in the play.
Branson Rideaux ’20, who plays Brucie, an unemployed 49-year-old struggling with a drug addiction, said that it was both fun and difficult to “try to give authenticity to the character” and “do justice to this powerful story.”
“There are always things in the character I hadn’t been thinking about before, things that matter to the character I didn’t think mattered before,” Rideaux said. “There’s always deeper places to go in theater in general, but especially with a Lynn Nottage play — she’s an incredible playwright.”
Rabinowitz said that he has tried to be “as ambitious as possible” in terms of production.
In the original script by Lynn Nottage, every scene in the play is preceded by major national and international news headlines, and ends with a piece of local news on Reading, Pennsylvania. According to Mavhunga, she chose to project only biggest headlines — which address presidential campaigns and stock market fluctuations — during scene transitions.
Mavhunga said that this projection effect emphasizes that “especially in times of financial crisis, we choose as a society to focus on big issues the don’t pertain to the person struggling right next to us — the grime and the sweat and hard work that’s going on below.”
“Literally, sweat is happening beneath these headlines,” Mavhunga said.
Sweat will run through Family Weekend, which Bosco said was an “intentional choice.” Bosco said that the impacts of the financial crisis are relevant to every family and added that it is nice to stage a show written by a Yale alumnae during this specific weekend.
Both Mavhunga and Rabinowitz cited the time limit as the biggest challenge of the production. The actors were cast on Sept. 8, leaving the team with less than four weeks of rehearsal time before opening night.
“It was certainly a mountain to get here, but it’s a mountain I’m very proud to say we’ve climbed,” said Rabinowitz.
“Sweat” will run on Oct. 4 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Yale Repertory Theatre on Chapel Street.
Carrie Zhou | firstname.lastname@example.org