SCHENECTADY — On May 17 – 21, Union College Theater and Dance Department presents SWEAT by Lynn Nottage at the Yulman Theater in Schenectady. Directed by Jean-Remy Monnay of the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate NY, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat explores the intricacies of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and labor relations.
“I was excited to audition, and I’m thrilled to help bring these stories to life,” said theater and English major Maggie Kelley ’24, playing the role of Tracey in Sweat. “This play is a beautiful window into the lives of these people who Nottage wrote to be so incredibly real. The relationships between each character are so nuanced and interesting, and it feels like an important story to tell.”
Sweat chronicles the lives of a diverse cast of characters who live in Reading, Pennsylvania, as the plot shifts between 2000 and 2008 in present-day and flashback scenes. They work at one of Reading’s only industries, a steel mill with a parallel story to Schenectady’s General Electric Company.
Sweat delves into the lives of blue-collar employees affected by unions, immigration, and outsourcing during one of the greatest economic crises in modern American history.
“When I read the play for the first time, I saw how real these stories are, and yet they haven’t been told. It was different, brutally honest, and it partook in what I believe is why we do theater: to tell stories others haven’t seen and others have lived,” said co-assistant director Melanie De La Cruz ’26.
De La Cruz, who is a double major in political science and theater, added, “In addition to this play being written by an amazing playwright, the story revolves around an era of Americans facing all sorts of uncertainty, and it would be a great work of art to provoke thought as to how the America then mirrors the America of today. We relate more to each other than you may think.”
Lynn Nottage’s play stemmed from her desire to seek out how ‘poverty and economic stagnation were shifting the American narrative.’ Drinks, secrets, laughter, and friendship are set against the backdrop of factory work and evenings spent at a familiar bar.
When layoffs, injustice, and prejudice begin to dissolve friendships and family bonds, the characters find themselves fighting each other and themselves to stay afloat.
“It sends an important message about how friends become foes in the face of adversity, the financial struggle of small-town America, and the impact of prejudiced thoughts and behaviors on a tight-knit community,” said Sarah Wright ‘23, assistant stage manager and a biomedical engineering major.
“There’s something so real and hard-hitting about the story being told. As someone who has lived in a small town for their entire life, I know people just like Tracey, Stan, Jason, and Oscar,” she added.
Wright commented on the production process that she loves “working with the theater department at Union, especially when we get the chance to work with guest directors and stage managers.”
Monnay’s work bringing culture and diversity to the local theater recommended him for the role of director. He was drawn to the relevancy of the topics of family, love, immigration, and the working class discussed in Sweat. For Monnay, the play is about “the things that are important to me.”
Working with the students is a collaborative process infused with storytelling and delving into the deep messages of the play. Monnay said, “This production is so important to me because I get to work with the students and crew, who are such a pleasure to work with. I love them.”
He was enthusiastic about the energy and effort that the cast has put into this production. “I can’t wait for Wednesday,” said Monnay. “They’re doing a great job, and I’m really proud of them.”
“I’m excited for this beautiful community of actors to demonstrate their hard work on stage and share their love for theater to the audience,” said De La Cruz.
Tickets for Sweat are available through the Yulman Theater Box Office or through Eventbrite. Tickets are general seating. $15 for general admission and $5 for those with a Union ID (students, faculty, alumni), and senior citizens.
For more information, contact the Yulman Theater Box Office at [email protected] or call (518) 388-6545. Please note: Sweat contains strong language and on-stage depictions of violence.