Tuesday, November 23, 2021


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. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

 Trouble in Mind--An Absorbing Work with a Knockout LaChanze

        By Joseph Cervelli

Alice Childress' absorbing and moving 1955 play "Trouble in Mind" is being given a dynamic production at the American Airlines Theater. It was well received when it opened over 60 years ago off Broadway but the producers who wanted to bring it to Broadway would not unless the playwright eliminated scenes that dealt firmly with racism. She rightfully refused. Thankfully, but sad that Childress is no longer around, it  has been brought where it rightfully belongs. 

The moment the astonishing LaChanze takes to the stage you know you are witnessing a performance that will linger long in your mind and hopefully on those of voters at award time. As Wiletta Mayer in this play within a play looks out at what is to be an empty theater with revelation that she will be starring in a new play called "Chaos in Belleville." She jokes with doorman Henry (played with conviction by Simon Jones) whom she recognizes from years ago when he was an electrician on one of her shows.


John Nevins (a very fine Brandon Micheal Hall) is a young Black actor who has little acting experience so Wiletta tries to give him some advice upon meeting the director. Both John and she form a bond because she knows his family from the town she grew up in.

The other actors all mill in. The only white female actor Judy Sears (a very good Danielle Campbell); the younger and flamboyant Millie Davis (a delightful Jessica Frances Dukes); and the oldest of the troupe Sheldon Forrester (a superb Chuck Cooper.) 

Michael Zegen gives a masterful performance as the play's director, Al Manners. He appears to be thoughtful and comforting until he proves to be both insensitive and a bully. What adds to his callousness is his own personal problems. Zegen who gave an especially fine performance in the last production of "A View From The Bridge"  gives an equally admirable one here. 

There is one other white actor in the play, Bill O'Ray (a very good Don Stephenson),who has this never ending speech from the play they are rehearsing. But O'Ray himself has his own prejudices with the black cast members never joining them for lunch. 

The racial aspects start to emerge as the actors read from the play which supposedly is to deal with sharecroppers and the horrors of lynching. But slowly as the actors recite their lines  they are nothing more than racist stereotypes. Al makes John wave his hands around with histrionics that certainly is degrading and Wiletta's emotions are just as insultingly stereotypical. Yet, she deals with it wanting the job as she had to do with so many other acting roles.  Sheldon also kowtows to the director even more so  trying to act as a buffer between actors and director. He is accused of being an "Uncle Tom" but just trying to keep his job knowing through years of experience that this was the way to sadly keep from being fired. There is one sensationally moving scene where Cooper  breaks out of his character's calm demeanor to give a devastating monologue about as a child he witnessed a lynching. 

Things get more heated and under Charles Randolph-Wright's astute direction.  Wiletta refuses to go though with one scene in which she states to Al whom she acted with years ago that a mother of a young man who is about to be lynched would never act that way. The combustibility between Al and Wiletta is electric. LaChanze  plays the role of Wiletta at that moment as a real mother would and not as written. It is an unforgettable moment. 

Here is a forceful work that took too long to get to Broadway but now it is here you would be quite foolish to pass this one up.

PHOTOS: Joan Marcus

Tickets are available at the American Airlines Theatre 227 W. 42nd Street

Monday, November 15, 2021

 Morning's at Seven--A Heartfelt Delight

        By Joseph Cervelli

I was unaware that the very well received Tony Award winning 1980 production of Paul Osborn's "Morning's at Seven" was not the original. The show premiered in 1938 and only played about 44 performances. Thankfully, the first Broadway revival ran for over 500. The show which is a perennial regional favorite is now being revived at St. Clement's Theater and it is a sheer delight with a superb cast you cherish every given moment. 

For some strange reason I never saw any production of "Morning's" so had this fear it would not hold up well and be some rickety relic. On the contrary. While there is a scene in which Carl (John Rubenstein) is going through a serious midlife crisis while  looking for a "fork in a road" and places his head against the tree is played for laughs you just need to accept the fact that depression was not taken as seriously as it rightfully is right now. There were some laughs at that scene but it does not exacerbate what turns out to be a temporary mental instability of the character.

Harry Feiner's pastoral looking set with two houses sit next to each other and Barbara A Bell's well calibrated costumes along with James E. Lawlor III's warm lighting set the mood for what is deceiving. Everything looks tranquil on the surface but there is a lot of tension between the four sisters three of which live across from each other. 

Taking place in 1922 in what is simply called "An American town" Cara (Lindsay Crouse) lives with her her husband, Thor, (Dan Lauria) and Cara's loquacious unmarried sister, Arry (Alley Mills.) While Cara seems very content (not long lasting)  there is a unsettling annoyance she feels for Arry. First, having her living with them for close to 45 years is not easy. Second, there is some other prickly issue I won't divulge that has been festering in Cara all this time. Thor is more of a laid-back type of guy trying to keep the peace between both of them. 

In the adjacent house lives sister Ida (Alma Cuervo) with Carl and their grown son, Homer, Jonathan Spivey. Homer who has been dating Myrtle (Keri Safran) for close to twelve years cannot commit to marriage despite the fact Carl has built a new house for them. The jittery Homer just cannot leave his home. 

There is another sister Esther (Patty McCormick) married to a retired snobbish professor David (Tony Roberts.) David dislikes the family calling them "morons" and with hilarious deadpan delivery announces to them,  "You all know how much you all depress me." He even forbids Esther from visiting them though the most grounded of the sisters refuses to comply. 

The key reason to pay a visit is the enchanting cast. Under Dan Wackerman's skilled direction he allows each actor to shine in their respective roles.

Crouse carefully balances her character's  love for Thor while trying to deal with the overbearing Arry. Lauria who gave a bravura performance portraying Vince Lombardi in the play "Lombardi" is on target  as Thor trying to offer advice to both his wife and sister-in-law who are at uncertain odds with each other. Mills who is a new addition to the show is perfect as a likable though annoying Arry whom you begin to feel sorry for. She wanted a home of her own but lives vicariously through her sister and brother-in-law. Cuervo does well as Ida trying to deal with her husband's issues and her son's own immaturity. McCormick easily makes Esther the most reasonable of the sister's probably because she does not live next to them. By the play's end you see exactly how shrewd a character she is and McCormick plays with with total believablity. 

Rubenstein is a joy as Carl and what a complete pleasure having that Broadway icon Tony Roberts back on stage. He certainly never misses with his wonderfully snarky remarks at the family. Both Spivey and Safran nearly steal the show with their impeccable comic turns. Safran is a real find reminding me of actress Julie Hagerty (who incidentally was in the 1980 revival.) She never tries to imitate Hagerty but has that same type of off beat humor. Her effusiveness at being almost nauseatingly polite when she first meets Ida is priceless. Watch what happens when she tries to be as ebullient to David. Spivey is completely entertaining as someone appearing to have a panic attack whenever he speaks and begins to drive the sweet Myrtle to wonder about their relationship. 

Osborne has written a play about old age and the travails that ensue but at the same time trying to get across the fact that as we age we need to embrace not only the years ahead but those family members that are still around. It is hard as he indicates to let go of past dalliances or lies that we have been through with those closest to us but to what end should we perpetuate them. His belief seems to be we may not forget but to forgive and move on.

PHOTOS: Maria Baranova

Tickets are available at Theatre at Saint Clement's 423 West 46th Street.