In Lynn Nottage’s play, the central problem concerns making a living. The play has is set during two years, 2000 and 2008. The outcome of the events of 2000 leads to the events of 2008, but the two parts of the play—which alternate, rather than being presented chronologically—have slightly different problems.
In the earlier setting, all the characters work at, or are connected with someone who works at, a factory. Some of those characters are regular employees at the factory, while others are temporary or part-time. The question of staying alive and employed is a central conflict between workers and owners. Some of the play takes place in a bar owned by Stan. His career at the plant ended with injury. Stan’s physical injuries may be considered to stand for the harmful effects the plant has on everyone, even though they depend on the wages.
The conflict also exists between workers, influenced by factors including racial and gender discrimination. The company opposes union representation, which leads to a strike. Many people have the difficult decision of whether to cross the picket line, especially as their resources dwindle the longer the strike goes on. The fight that breaks out leads to further injury to Stan, and imprisonment for two young men—one black, one white—because of their involvement in the fight. Because the 2008 scenes take place right after they are released from prison, their completing their time is one part of the solution to the play’s problem.