Long before immigration, racial conflict and deindustrialization became grenades in the hands of politicians, playwright Lynn Nottage was talking about some of the things that vex contemporary America in her 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Sweat."

After several COVID-19 delays, the charged drama opens Friday as the last show in the Guthrie Theater's season. It is the second time that Minnesotans will have a chance to see the play. The Guthrie teamed with New York's Public Theater for a mini tour of "Sweat" in 2018 at makeshift venues in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud.

"Sweat" takes place in a world where people feel unmoored from their certainties. Manufacturing has moved overseas, unions continue to be decimated and middle-class life seems more like a receding mirage than an attainable dream, said the Guthrie's artistic director, Joseph Haj. Those developments helped crater the middle class and deepen socio-political fissures.

"This is not a nostalgic … or historic piece," said Haj. "It is about the world we're living in, with examinations that are entirely current."

Theater may not be a source of hot takes with the speed of social media, but it can still give us the pulse of the zeitgeist at a time of social unease because of economic, demographic and technological changes.

In taut, poetic language, "Sweat" puts a lit match to a combustible emotional stew as a close-knit mosaic of Americans gather at a bar and try to make sense of their lives. The characters include middle-aged best friends Cynthia, who's Black, and Tracey, who's white, as they deal with job competition.

Their sons Chris and Jason also are onetime best friends across racial lines. But after they end up in prison, they go different ways. Jason returns home as a tattoo-faced white supremacist.

The play "invites us to see how ridiculous and absurd and gorgeously broken we are," said director Tamilla Woodard, who is the head of acting at Yale's Geffen School of Drama. Woodard likened the play to a Greek tragedy, with companies in the roles of gods.

"But before it can be tragic, it has to be funny," said Woodard. "So, there's a lot of tee-heeing in this."

Woodard, who served as associate director for Broadway's "Hadestown" and also co-founded the site-specific company PopUp Theatrics, said that as much as "Sweat" is about big issues, it's about people in intimate relationships. And that allows for empathy and understanding, but also also heartbreak.

That's especially true around the friendship between Cynthia and Tracey. Their relationship becomes strained after one of them is promoted.

"We have one character who begins to mourn something they think they had and to fight against their best friend for something they think they've lost — something that they feel is their right and has been taken away from them," said Woodard. "This inches me closer into the door so I can begin to see what's driving people toward an end where they say, let's burn the whole house down."

The play asks "how can we restore ourselves so that we're not fighting over the scraps but see what abundance we have if we actually get hold of the thing together," she continued.

Nottage, who has become the quintessential chronicler of the historical moment, won her first Pulitzer for "Ruined," a drama set in an African war zone.

She began working on "Sweat" in 2011 after reading a New York Times article on Reading, Pa., which had the dubious distinction of being among the poorest municipalities in the nation. She traveled to Reading for research and interviews.

Nottage completed a second play, formerly named "Floyd's" but renamed "Clyde's" after the killing of George Floyd. That work, which began as a commission under former Guthrie leader Joe Dowling, premiered in Minneapolis in 2019.

But Nottage, whose "Intimate Apparel" had a memorable production at the Guthrie starring Sharon Washington and Sterling K. Brown, does not want it to be considered a companion piece even though both plays share a character, Haj noted.

"Objectively speaking, Lynn's one of the finest playwrights working today, with exactly as many Pulitzer Prizes as August Wilson," said Haj. "She has an astounding ear for dialogue — a poetic bent and an extraordinary sense of rhythm in her plays."

For Woodard, "Sweat" does a lot more than speak into the moment.

"The question that people are always asking is what happened — how did we get here," said Woodard. "One character says, and so eloquently, the writing is on the wall and we act like we can't read."

Or, in this case, the writing's on the stage. What may be true in the well crafted world of the play may also be accurate outside of it.

Who: By Lynn Nottage. Directed by Tamilla Woodard.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 1 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 1 & 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Aug. 21.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Tickets: $20-$80. 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.
Protocol: Masks required.