“Clyde’s” satisfies! This new comedy/drama from two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage is a feast for the mind, a succulent bill of fare that brings the heat, spice and sauciness through its characters. All the characters are ex-cons—Monty, Trish, Rafael, Jason and Clyde. The owner. Clyde is an emotionally wounded woman, who wears tight, revealing clothing, sexually harasses her employees, threatens them, beats them, curses them out, continuously steps on their dreams, but is also the only option they have for employment after being incarcerated. She’s a no-nonsense owner of a truck-stop sandwich shop, which serves a dull bill of fare and whose employees who want to do anything but that. In fact, their goal is to create the ultimate sandwich.
As they prepare the common sandwiches, they contemplate and share delicious, mouth-watering descriptions of the ultimate sandwich they envision in their minds. They react and comment on the each person’s description and you can almost taste these culinary delights as they graphically describe each savory ingredient. These ex-cons are so dedicated to their quest for the perfect sandwich because that quest brings a meaning to their lives. It gives them an opportunity to dream of something better. They want to find their purpose in life, their journey and to show that they can be contributing members of society. A society that has written them off as unworthy of employment, dreams, joy and acknowledgment.
One of the many important aspects of this play is how Nottage lets each character tell their backstory, and while they are all very different, they have one thing in common: after serving their time they came out, were given $75 and put back into society, and expected to figure it out. They couldn’t get jobs because no one would hire them. So working for Clyde—a very abusive woman—is the only option that they have and they have to take whatever cruelty she dishes out. They have to make it work.
Clyde is hard on others because her entire life has been difficult, even from her childhood. She is truly a damaged woman and you know what they say—misery loves company. She does not want to see anyone else happy because, for her, life has no happiness. She always feels like she’s behind the eight ball and, because of that, she is always ready to lash out.
When the play opens, Monty is talking to Clyde, trying to get her to taste a sandwich he has created. He tells her his story of woe, but she is unmoved. She lets him know she has no empathy, that it is simply not a part of her make-up and has never been. Monty is a marvelous character that Nottage has crafted to perfection. He is an older man who serves as a teacher and inspiration to the younger characters. He has found that cooking and being on a quest to create the perfect sandwich, one that will take the consumer on a journey with perfectly balanced ingredients, gives his life purpose and meaning. He has experimented with finding that delicious combination of seasonings, spices, garnishes, breads and meats that will make a person’s mouth go on a journey. For him, cooking and food is almost a religion. When you find the right combination of ingredients it elevates you to a higher plane. Trish and Rafael are inspired by him and want to learn from him. When Jason first arrives he doesn’t understand the big deal about creating the perfect sandwich, but before you know it, he begins to realize the inspiration in it and also gets involved in this mission. Ultimately, this dream helps Monty, Trish, Rafael and Jason to gain a sense of achievement and success.
“Clyde’s” has a lot of funny, shocking, and stunning moments. I found myself laughing a great deal and also being amazed by the sheer bitterness and cruelty that Clyde inflicted on her kitchen staff. This play will make one realize that people who have served their time deserve a second chance. But you also realize that society is not ready to give people a clean slate and that’s why plays like this are imperative, to open people’s eyes and hopefully their hearts. Uzo Aduba is sexy, spicy and sharp tongued as Clyde. Her performance will stay with you long after the stage goes dark. Kara Young as Trish (Letitia) makes an outstanding Broadway debut. Her character is funny, sexy, and has a great deal of depth. I love any chance that I get to see Young on stage, as she always completely commits to her characters and delivers multi-leveled performances that reveal vulnerability, outrage and heart. Reza Salazar is captivating as Rafael. His character is funny, touching, vulnerable and determined to win Trish’s heart. He also strives to create the perfect sandwich, which will be his signature of success. Edmund Donovan is absolutely perfect as wason, a White man with racist tattoos on his arms and neck working in a sandwich shop with Blacks and Latinos. He is on the defensive at first, as his appearance garners him much hostility. Donovan plays this character with depth, revealing that there is much more to him than what people see. In fact, what is on the outside doesn’t reflect who he is at all. Ron Cephas Jones as Montellous (Monty) brings a fatherly demeanor and calmness to his character that is admirable. He is someone who has made choices in his life, done his time and has found the secret to elevating himself to another level and will not allow anyone to take his dream away. He inspires others to dream as well, making his character invaluable. This seasoned actor brings his sterling presence to the stage of the Helen Hayes Theatre on W 44th Street and leaves the audience to bask in the warmth, charm and depth of his performance. “Clyde’s” features fabulous direction by Kate Whoriskey. “Clyde’s” will have you full of food for thought!
For more info, visit www.2st.com/shows/clydes.