The real-life decline of the steel industry in Reading, Pennsylvania, is the inspiration behind “Sweat,” a fictional account of the years 2000 to 2008 in the city.

“‘Sweat’ examines what happens to people when they are deprived of the dignity of honest work,” said Susan Baer Collins, who is the guest director of the play at the Omaha Community Playhouse, where it opens Friday.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning script by Lynn Nottage is the story of two best friends who, with another woman, are steel mill workers. Their friendship is tested when one becomes a supervisor.

“Her friend sees her as the other,” Collins said, and wonders why she’s not fighting harder for her workers.

The two women have sons who work at the mill, adding to the conflict. The play, which premiered on Broadway in 2017, also addresses such issues as racism, the opioid crisis, other drug addictions, alcoholism and crime.

Nottage is the only woman playwright to win two Pulitzers. She received the other one in 2009 for “Ruined,” set in a mining town in the Congo.

Though the subject matter sounds grim, Collins said “Sweat” offers hope.

“This is a story for our time,” she said. “Through such stories, we have the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes, to witness their humanity. In them, we can’t help but recognize parts of ourselves, leading us to believe that what unites us is stronger than what divides us.”

“Sweat” runs through Sept. 15 in the small Howard Drew Theatre.

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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