When people talk about “Trump’s America,” they mean two things at once. In general, the phrase is simply a term to describe where the country’s been at since the 2016 election. It’s also the preferred term of condescension among blue-staters for the great swaths of Americans who elected him president. Simply as an explanation for how Trump’s America got the way it is, and, by extension, how the country got the way it is, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is the most important work of art produced in the last five years. I was fortunate to see it on Broadway; this production, with its cast of all-Chicago talent—including director Ron OJ Parson—and reimagined set design, is every bit as affecting.
The play gives the audience one view after another of disintegration. It starts with three women, coworkers in the same rust belt factory, celebrating a birthday at their favorite bar. By the end, six months later, the “vipers” running things at the plant have erased a whole way of life, and the bartender, Stan (Keith Kupferer, in a powerful performance), has gone from advising the women’s kids not to leave the assembly line—”You leave, it’ll be impossible to get back in”—to wishing out loud that he’d skipped town himself 30 years earlier, when the getting was good. Amid that rubble, we are left with a lacerating portrayal of one town’s ruin. Sweat is required viewing for anybody in search of answers to our fractured reality. v