August 16, 2015

“Sweat,” the title of Lynn Nottage’s scorching new play, refers to the hard labor that its characters have put in for decades, only to find their modest livelihoods threatened by the evaporation of manufacturing jobs in America. But members of the audience may find themselves getting a little moist with anxiety as this extraordinarily moving drama hurtles toward its conclusion with the awful inevitability of Greek tragedy. Certainly I found myself squirming in my seat as I watched the forces of fate, or, to be more specific, the mechanics of 21st-century American capitalism bear down on these characters with the brutal power of a jackhammer smashing through concrete. Ms. Nottage, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “Ruined,” her terrific drama about the human cost of a civil war in Africa, has surpassed even that achievement with “Sweat,” which is making its premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival here in a blazingly well-acted production directed by Kate Whoriskey, who also directed the premiere production of “Ruined.” (“Sweat,” co-commissioned by Arena Stage in Washington, opens there in January.)