Philadelphia Theatre Company kicks off the 2018-2019 season with the Pennsylvania premiere of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat. This Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner explores Reading, Pennsylvania’s shrinking industrial economy and shares the fear, tragedy and hopefulness of a community on the verge of inevitable change. The production will kick-off the first produced season under new Producing Artistic Director Paige Price. Justin Emeka makes his Philadelphia debut directing a cast filled with local stars and Barrymore Award winners who have extensive theatre, film and television credits. Sweat will run from October 12 to November 4, 2018 at Philadelphia Theatre Company’s stage at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street. Opening Night is Wednesday, October 17th at 7:00pm. Tickets range from $25-$69 and are available in person at the box office, online at philatheatreco.org or by phone at 215-985-0420. Season subscriptions are also now available starting at $38.
Based on Lynn Nottage’s extensive research in Reading, Sweat is both a Pennsylvania story and a national story. The play highlights a valley town filled with fiercely proud families who have worked for generations in the plants and factories of a thriving county seat. Unions rule, well-paying jobs are coveted and politics are personal. As industries disappear, the men and women of Reading are rendered powerless as they watch their income, legacy and relationships follow suit. Follow their journey as Sweat unearths brutally honest consequences but also dares to ask how a community can heal and resurrect itself.
“Theatre is universal and politics are local,” said Price about her first produced show at PTC. “The themes in Sweat are so relevant to everything happening right now across the nation. The struggles of Reading are the very struggles that the working classes across America face. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share that story and also spotlight a community so close to home that is going through its own healing and resurrection.”
Lynn Nottage began work on Sweat in 2011 when she interviewed residents of Reading, Pennsylvania. At the time, Reading was officially deemed the poorest city in America with a poverty rate of over 40%. Nottage was influenced by an article in the New York Times and by the Occupy Wall Street grassroots movement. Her examination into the city’s working class focused heavily on the loss of industry and the city’s changing ethnic composition. She noted similarities to her time talking to the steelworkers with her experience in Mansfield during the 1984 miner’s strike.
Sweat made its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, before being produced Off-Broadway in 2016. The show went on to Broadway in 2017 and won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was also nominated for two 2017 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Fight Choreography. Sweat received three 2017 Tony Award nominations: Best Play and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for both Johanna Day and Michelle Wilson.
“The award-winning script is an exemplary example of storytelling that is timely, relevant and unabashedly truthful,” added Price. “I want audiences to be as moved and energized by Sweat as I was. It is the perfect show to not only kick-off our first produced season, but to also ignite the next chapter for the company. From the moment you walk in the door, to the curtain call, I want the audience to have an experience that is energizing and where they feel like we have thought about how to make their time at PTC truly special. We hope all three shows are conversation starters that are both full and surprising.”
For her first produced work at Philadelphia Theatre Company, Price tapped Justin Emeka, who makes his PTC debut directing Sweat. Off-Broadway he has directed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet at the Classical Theatre of Harlem. Emeka is known for incorporating cultural and artistic innovation into high quality, thoughtful, and entertaining theatre, with new approaches to “classic” works and imaginative staging of popular and emerging playwrights.
“A well-written play like Sweat demands actors to dig deep into their own emotional reservoir and share pieces of themselves that they normally keep to themselves,” said Emeka. “Because of the demands of the script, I looked for actors that were the most fearless, lovable, and willing to be vulnerable with each other. All of the actors in the cast stood out to me in this regard. The play does not really have one or two lead actors. All nine roles play a significant part in moving the story forward, so it really requires a strong ensemble who knows how to listen to each other, and makes creative decisions in response to what they get from each other in the moment. I am very excited to work with Paige and to be in the room with this cast and watch them build their relationships with one another.”
The cast selected for Sweat features a who’s who of local and regional stage, and film and television stars that will take on the roles of these everyday Pennsylvanians.
Celebrated local director, actress, and Barrymore nominee Kittson O’Neill will play “Tracey.” O’Neill also has a role in the film Glass and she recently appeared on Law & Order SVU. She will also appear in the film Creed 2.
Kimberly S. Fairbanks, who recently appeared back-to-back in Passing Strange at The Wilma Theater, Human Remains at InterAct Theatre Company, and Sing the Body Electric at Theatre Exile, will play “Cynthia.”
Suli Holum, recently Barrymore nominated for her performance in Cabaret at Arden Theatre Company, will play “Jessie.”
Barrymore Award-Winner Matteo Scammell, who was recently in Hand to God and Detroit at PTC, returns to play “Jason.” Scammell, a Wilma Theater HotHouse member, has appeared on many local stages and is a company member at New Paradise Laboratories.
Making his PTC debut as “Chris” is local theatre, film, and television actor Walter DeShields. He recently appeared in The Swallowing Dark at Inis Nua Theatre. DeShields is the co-Artistic Director of Theatre in the X.
Barrymore nominee J. Hernandez, recently staged his one-man show, The Best of Me. He is Barrymore nominated for his performance as Lucky in Waiting for Godot at Quintessence Theatre will appear in a pivotal role as the outsider “Oscar.”
Playing “Brucie” is noted local actor Damien J. Wallace, whose recent appearances include The Bluest Eye, Two Trains Running and The Legend of Georgia McBride at Arden Theatre Company.
Brian Anthony Wilson plays “Evan”. Wilson has an extensive theatre, film, and TV background. He was seen recently in the Irish Heritage Theatre’s production of Lay Me Down Softly. Television appearances include Siren and this summer was featured in Oceans 8 starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and others. He will also make an appearance on the big screen in Glass, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Rounding out the cast is actor Rich Hebert as “Stan.” Hebert has several screen credits including a recurring role on the soap opera The Young and the Restless as Fred Logan. He also has extensive Broadway and national tour credits including The Last Ship, Saturday Night Fever, Cats, Sunset Boulevard and Les Misérables, among others.
“I have not worked with any of the actors before which makes the process a lot more exciting for me,” added Emeka. “I love getting to know artists through the process of collaboration.”
For the creative team, Emeka enlisted Christopher Ash to bring the town of Reading to life on stage as the scenic designer. Levonne Lindsay is creating the costumes. Alyssandra Docherty is designing the lighting. Christopher Colucci is the Sound Designer. Rick Sordelet is the Fight Director.
“Although the play is largely set in a bar that serves as a home of sorts for the characters, I also love how the story of the play does not happen in a straight line and moves fluidly between time and location,” said Emeka. “In this way it invites our design team to really be innovative in how we move from scene to scene and create an aesthetic that is unique to our collective artistry.”
Emeka added, “The play moves like a runaway train and creatively incorporates elements of realism as well as an unapologetic sense of theatricality. I am excited to create our own unique transitions that use multi-media to weave the scenes together. I want to use iconic music, projections of political events, sports highlights, pop-culture and news stories from around the turn of the millennium to help create the context for the world of the play.”
Sweat marks a number of exciting firsts for Emeka. It will be his first time working with PTC and Price, his first time working with any of the cast and crew, and his first time directing Lynn Nottage’s work. “Lynn Nottage is one of my favorite playwrights, yet this is my first opportunity directing her work. I think she is one of our greatest storytellers in the American theatre. In her writing, she has an incredible ability to craft a very specific moment in history and shine a light on voices that are often overlooked within that period. Sweat documents the transformation of the lives of a community as a result of a dissolving economy between the years 2000 and 2008. As the local industries of Reading, PA shut down and move overseas, Nottage examines the impact on lives and attitudes of the people being shut out and left behind. Without knowing it, the play in many ways predicts our current political landscape. As families and friendships fall apart the play forces the audience to address the complexity of what it means to be an American.”
The New Yorker named Sweat, “The first theatrical landmark of the Trump era.” Lancaster Online called Sweat, "a powerful and emotional look at identity, race, economy and humanity.”
Single tickets for Sweat are on sale now for $25-$69 with discounts available for groups, seniors, students, industry, and the military, as well as $10Tix sponsored by PNC ArtsAlive. Subscriptions for the 2018-2019 season are also currently on sale and packages are 50% off, starting at $38. In addition to Sweat, PTC’s season will include the Philadelphia premiere of The Bridges of Madison County and the Rolling World Premiere of Christina Anderson’s How To Catch Creation.
For additional information, tickets, and subscriptions please visit philatheatreco.org or call 215-985-0420. Follow Sweat’s journey from Reading to Philadelphia on Facebook by liking Philadelphia Theatre Company, following @philatheatreco on Twitter and following @philatheatreco on Instagram and Instagram Stories.
Honorary Producers for Sweat are Linda and David Glickstein. Additional support for Sweat is provided by the Charlotte Cushman Foundation.
PTC’s 2018-2019 season is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal, Independence Blue Cross, Center City Film & Video, PNC Arts Alive, and American Airlines, the official airline of Philadelphia Theatre Company.
ABOUT PHILADELPHIA THEATRE COMPANY
Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC) is a leading regional theater company that produces, develops, and presents entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience. PTC balances its Philadelphia roots with a national point of view that combines a taste for adventure with a dedication to new American plays and musicals.
Founded in 1974, PTC has presented 140 world and Philadelphia premieres. More than 50 percent of PTC’s world premieres have moved on to New York and other major cities, helping to earn Philadelphia a national reputation as a hub for new play development. PTC has received more than 180 nominations and 53 awards from the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. In 2007, PTC was instrumental in expanding Philadelphia’s thriving cultural corridor by opening the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on the Avenue of the Arts.