Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 23, 2021
Clyde's by Lynn Nottage. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. Scenic design by Takeshi Kata. Costume design by Jennifer Moeller. Lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Sound design by Justin Ellington. Hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan. Original music by Justin Hicks. Vocal coach Gigi Buffington.
If you've been following the business news of late, you'll know that we are living in a time when workers are leaving in droves from demanding, demeaning, low-paying jobs. But for the kitchen help in the purgatory that is Clyde's sandwich shop, any decision to quit is tied to their absolute need to work, coupled with the difficulty of finding anything else. That's because every one of them is a former prison inmate, including their overlord, the intimidating mean-ass bully, Clyde herself (Uzo Aduba giving a brilliantly diabolical performance).
Clyde knows she has the upper hand with her underlings (not a lot of job offers for ex-cons), and it's never good when she comes into the kitchen to check on them. Just ask Rafael (Reza Salazar), who at one point shows his co-workers his battle scars. "She's strong as hell," he says. "Got, like, lucha libre moves."
Short on plot but strong on characterization, Clyde's is at its best when it focuses on the interactions among the workers. Dialog is Nottage's strong suit here, and the pitch-perfect cast members, under Kate Whoriskey's solid direction, play it to the hilt. In addition to Salazar, the others are Kara Young as Letitia, a single mom with a child requiring round-the-clock medical supervision; Edmund Donovan as Jason, the newcomer who needs some serious lessons in food-handling hygiene; and Montrellous (Ron Cephas Jones), the calm and steady sensei of sandwich making and the only one who knows how to talk to Clyde without getting his head chopped off.
The play is sprinkled with interludes of discussion around the zen of sandwich making, and you will be invited to imagine any number of combinations of ingredients that will make you think more carefully about slapping together just anything on a couple of slices of bread and calling it a meal. As Rafael puts it, citing a lesson he has learned from Montrellous: "The first bite should be an invitation that you can't refuse. If you get it right, it'll transport you to another place, a memory, a desire, cuz like everything he touches be sublime."
It's a lovely moment, but then in strides Clyde, attired in one of Jennifer Moeller's many eye-popping costumes she wears throughout the evening, and it's "What's going on in here? Where's my tuna on rye?" Her threatening demeanor and tone speak volumes, and you know this is not just an idle query. Someone better have that tuna on rye ready, or heads will roll!
You wouldn't be wrong to think of Clyde's as a sort of parable, pitting the evil title character against the guardian angel Montrellous for the souls of the other workers. You could also compare it with some of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's pieces, like The Weir or The Seafarer, plays that bridge the abyss between reality and folklore. However you view it, if you allow the story and the characters who tell it to wash over you, you will find Clyde's to be as satisfying as one of Montrellous's memorable creations, say "curried quail egg salad with mint on oven-fresh cranberry pecan multigrain bread."