PORTLAND — Playwright Lynn Nottage premiered her play "Sweat" in 2015 as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "American Revolutions" series exploring key moments in U.S. history.
With the announcement Monday that the play received the Pulitzer Prize for drama, Nottage has made U.S. history as the first female playwright to win the prestigious award twice.
"Lynn Nottage is one of our nation's great dramatists, and we are so proud to see her become the first woman to have won two Pulitzer Prizes," said Bill Rauch, OSF's artistic director. "We knew that 'Sweat' was a vitally important new American play from when we read the first draft, and we are so proud to have commissioned, developed and premiered it in Ashland."
Many of Nottage's plays deal with the role work plays in crafting our identities, whether it's the seamstress in "Intimate Apparel" or the Congolese prostitutes in her 2009 Pulitzer-winner "Ruined."
Based on dozens of interviews, "Sweat" follows a group of steel workers in Reading, Pennsylvania, as their factory downsizes and their jobs get outsourced.
"I think that my natural impulse is to tell those stories because in some ways I've always been an outsider, and so I'm drawn to the outsider tales," Nottage told Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2015 in advance of the play's premier.
"I think the 'ah ha' moment for me was sitting in a room with this group of steel workers and feeling incredible empathy for people who I generally wouldn't be in conversation with," she said. "And feeling like, 'Oh, we're all outsiders now,' and really feeling like we were part of the same community."
The Pulitzer win for an OSF commission further cements the company's place as one of the country's leading commissioners of new works, particularly under the "American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle," which is commissioning 37 new plays in an attempt to create works of modern significance akin to Shakespeare's 37 works.
Another "American Revolutions" commission, "All The Way," debuted on Broadway in 2014 starring Bryan Cranston, won two Tonys, and was turned into an HBO movie in 2016.
After successful runs in Washington, D.C., and New York's Public Theater, "Sweat" itself opened on Broadway in March, followed this month by another "American Revolutions" commission: Paula Vogel's "Indecent."
As the New York Times wrote, of 10 new plays to open on Broadway this season, "Sweat" and "Indecent" are the only two by women — furthermore, two women playwrights who had been previously ignored by Broadway despite incredible accolades and who had turned instead to regional theaters like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to produce their work.
Rauch said the company hopes to produce "Indecent" in a future season.
In its review, the New Yorker called "Sweat," ''the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era."
"Nottage's writing is full of respect for the characters she creates, and nobody is better at capturing and illuminating the complicated beauty of the human soul," said Alison Carey, the director of American Revolutions.
"In 'Sweat,' she also captures the importance of human communities," she said, "and reminds us how vital it is for everybody's sake to care for them."