Clyde's--Lynn Nottage Again Proves to be One of the Most Gifted Playwrights Around
By Joseph Cervelli
Well, if you want to meet, and you surely do not, the boss from hell may I introduce Clyde (a hilariously scary Uzo Aduba.) She runs a restaurant named after her in Lynn Nottage's sometimes rollickingly funny and more often than not a sharply serious new play "Clyde's" presented by 2nd Stage at The Helen Hayes Theater. Nottage is truly one of the most versatile and gifted playwrights around. From her intensely beautiful "Intimate Apparel" to her gorgeous musical adaptation "The Secret Life of Bees" and the Pulitzer Prize winning "Sweat" she never fails to disappoint. Director Kate Whoriskey as in the past (I believe this is her fifth show working with Nottage) captures the deep rooted emotions of all the characters.
The foul mouthed Clyde owns a sandwich shop which is popular with truckers off some road in Berks County, PA. All the action takes place in the not very clean kitchen of the restaurant so it would be a place to avoid. But for a quick ham and cheese with coffee this is the place. There is some talk about the fact that the restaurant is being funded by some undesirables whom you never see and is never delved into.
Clyde herself was in prison for unknown reasons and the four workers she has hired all have been incarcerated for different reasons. Montrellous (Ron Cephas Jones) does not reveal why he served time until the end of the play but now that he is out wants to make more of the place by creating sandwiches that are not typical. He takes pride in his creations although Clyde wants none of it. She wants what she thinks the customers will like and is concerned about what those who are footing the bill for the purchase of the food would think. Jones who is excellent both here as he is in the terrific Apple TV series "Truth Be Told" is a kind of father figure. He acts as a buffer between the other workers and the callous Clyde. He also is a kind of poet and therapist telling them how making better food will help them gain respect among themselves. His introduction of Swiss chard to the workers is priceless.
The two that have been working there the longest are Letitia (Kara Young) who is a single mom and has been in an abusive relationship. She and Rafael (Reza Salazar) who humorously considers himself a sous chef have a working kinship although he would like to carry it further. She was in prison for stealing prescriptive medications. Letitia played beautifully by Young is generally late trying to get a sitter for her daughter who is disabled. Of course, the coarse Clyde could care less while the hyperkinetic Rafael, a wonderful Salazar was in for a botched bank robbery shows compassion. There is one scene where Rafael gets angry with Letitia that can easily break your heart.
Into the picture comes Jason (Edmund Donovan) whom they both have little respect for. He served time for aggravated assault and has quite of bit of tattoos which sends up a warning of his being a racist to Letitia. Clyde almost fuels the flames between the three of them while Jason says that all he wants is "a paycheck and peace." If you saw Donovan's award winning performance in "Great Clements" several seasons ago you know how amazing an actor he is. He again proves himself here.
The three of them start to get along thanks to Montrellous whose guidance helps them feel better about themselves and they may not create the best concoctions first try but it makes them gain dignity that they never had before despite Clyde's every given chance to destroy that. Aduba creates quite a character in Clyde. She is brilliant showing a caring smile in which you think she just might be changing until it turns malevolent. She thinks nothing of physically hurting anyone of them as you learn she did.
Takeshi Kata's set is on target and what is particularly interesting is Christopher Akerlind's fascinating lighting which works in conjunction with the show. As Montrellous starts to teach the three to make better food the lights take on an almost pinkish kind of light transporting them out of the harsh white lighting to a better place.
Whoriskey beautifully balances the hilarity with seriousness. Watching the expressions as each of the four workers near the end is memorable.
There is a wildly inventive ending involving Clyde which I won't dare give away. The clue might be (not a spoiler alert) something that occurs at the beginning of the play. That is all I will divulge.
"Clyde's" is most definitely one of the best shows of the season, thus far.
PHOTOS: Joan Marcus
Tickets are available at The Helen Hayes Theatre 240 West 44th Street.