Linfield College Theater

This is America: Linfield stages working-class epic ‘Sweat’

Adleane Hunter of California directs a cast of students and others in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of identity, economics, and race

Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Sweat brilliantly, humanely, and powerfully depicts what the playwright terms “spaces that are under-illuminated” — those spaces occupied by millions of working-class Americans whose lives are a daily struggle even if they have a job.

I saw it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, and of all the plays I’ve seen there since the early 2000s, it ranks high in my top ten. The final exchange of dialogue and, particularly, the last line, is one of the most powerful I’ve heard in an American play.

This month in McMinnville, Linfield College’s theater department tackles the play, led by guest director and producer Adleane Hunter, who has been doing theater in Southern California and elsewhere since the 1980s. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Nov. 7-9 and 14-16, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10. A series of special events, including an opening night talkback, accompanies the production.

I sat down with Hunter, who first visited Linfield a couple of years ago because her granddaughter is a student there. She’s familiar with Nottage, one of the best playwrights in American theater today. I asked her about that last line — and don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you.  

“I was so moved by it, I actually felt manipulated, because I didn’t see it coming,” she laughed as we had coffee at the campus Starbucks. Unlike many playgoers, Hunter strives for as spoiler-free an experience as possible. She does not read reviews or even the program notes before the lights go down. Even so, Hunter says, she can usually chart a play’s trajectory early on.

Adleane Hunter has come from Southern California to be guest director of Linfield College's production of "Sweat." Photo by: David Bates
Adleane Hunter of Southern California is guest director of Linfield College’s production of “Sweat.” Photo courtesy: Linfield College

Not with Sweat.

“I was drawn into this play in a way that I wasn’t projecting what was going to happen,” she said. “Often I’ll see plays and I can pretty much guess how it’s going to end, but I couldn’t with this play. I was very emotional. It’s so humanistic, it’s so profound. But it’s real, it’s organic.” 

Sweat explores the world of eight characters of various ages, genders, and ethnicities whose lives are bound up with a factory in Reading, Pa. Nottage was drawn to Reading — literally so; she spent more than a year there doing research — because she saw in the 2010 Census that it had the highest share of citizens living in poverty in the nation. According to notes for the show compiled by OSF, Reading’s unemployment in May 2010 was 14.7 percent. By way of comparison, Yamhill County’s hovers around 4 percent. The writing is exquisite, both in terms of plotting and dialogue. Yet, despite the poetry and emotional content of the piece, it functions not only as art but also (it seems to me) as an act of journalism. Bearing witness to life in the United States.

Continues…