Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

TheaterWorks Hartford
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's review of Off Peak

Ayanna Bria Bakari, Samuel María Gómez,
and Michael Chenevert

Photo by Mike Marques
Clyde's, at TheaterWorks Hartford through July 30, a comic, striking 95-minute play set within the confines of a truck stop sandwich joint, mixes audacious comedy with an edgy, important backstory. A raucous sold-out audience for opening night matched playwright Lynn Nottage's gregarious scripting with loud, exclamatory response.

Clyde (Latonia Phipps) is a tough and pretty much no-love boss who runs her "restaurant" with an iron fist. It's her way or no way if one happens to work for her. Collette Pollard's catchy set includes a few aluminum tables where a group of ex-inmates, each of whom struggles to survive, slap together sandwiches. Sometimes the resultant products are just a bit atypical, such as a Cuban with pickles, aioli and onions, or the peanut butter and jelly number complete with nutmeg and maybe cinnamon. The folks in the preparation area have been and still are marginalized. They were in jail for stealing, robbery, and so forth. These are not hardened, especially threatening criminal types.

Letitia (Ayanna Bria Bakari) swiped medicine for her daughter from a drugstore. The young girl is evidently disabled. Rafael (Samuel María Gómez) was on something or other when he broke into a bank. The smoother, seemingly wiser Montrellous (Michael Chenevert) hasn't the stereotypical look of someone who did time. He, a head chef, appears to be something of a guidance counselor for the contingent. The last to arrive on the scene and the only white individual in the group is Jason (David T. Patterson). No one exactly embraces this tattooed individual when he comes in. Still, one of Nottage's subtexts suggests that even suspect humans should get second chances. Hence, the colleagues, if you will, come to accept Jason and he's pleased to have moved on from his recent incarceration to a job. Further, there's the cast goal: creating a perfect sandwich.

Letitia and Rafael, call this a touching scene within a bold play, might just be a promising couple with a future. In these roles, Ayanna Bria Bakari and Samuel María Gómez come together with potential, and their chemistry is touching. Director Michael Burke facilitates this sequence and, really, the entire play with detail and knowledge. The performers maximize the perfectly fitting TheaterWorks performance space. The presentation never lags as Burke pushes pace from start to finish.

Clyde, a woman also once imprisoned, hasn't an iota of compassion or empathy for anyone she's employing. Cold and borderline cruel, she seems to be about herself–that's it. She's provocatively sexual and never shy with her commentary. Latonia Phipps brings a terrific performance as Clyde, by staying true to her grating persona throughout. While it is impossible for the line chefs to trust Clyde, they (the other four) have the integrity to care for one another. Incarceration means each is a fractured soul and each is still desperate.

Clyde's is about connection and community. Each kitchen staff member scuffles with the distant hope of rekindling a life which he or she initially broke and prison further fueled that process. Nottage allows them to share stories and, just maybe, dream of a better day.

Perhaps you've seen Hulu's "The Bear"? Here's what TheaterWorks' irresistible Clyde's and the highly impressive TV series have in common: chefs trying to make a go of it in a restaurant with a collective identity; they're in it together. Nottage's play goes even further, since everyone who now works behind the scenes at the scuzzy-looking spot had been deprived of freedom through captivity. Thus, the solidarity is doubled: each was in jail and now the foursome spend each day together, confined once more, for the tyrannically dictatorial Clyde.

The production opens a window on a specific subculture and it does so through both conflict and comedy in multi-layered fashion. Nottage has won Pulitzer Prizes for Drama for Ruined and for Sweat. She is a special writer who locates people who are damaged or lost and elucidates their plights and journeys.

Clyde's runs through July 30, 2023, at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-527-7838 or visit