Food & Drinks

‘Clyde’s’ on Broadway Is a Comedic Feast With a Serious Point

Does the perfect sandwich exist? While there will never be a universally accepted answer, the valiant quest for sandwich perfection is what drives playwright Lynn Nottage’s new comedy Clyde’s, directed by her longtime collaborator Kate Whoriskey. Opening at Broadway’s Second Stage Theater on November 22, Clyde’s is a genuinely funny and deeply emotional exploration of radical imagination, restorative justice, and the healing power of food.

Set in the greasy kitchen of a bustling truck stop, Clyde’s follows line cooks Letitia (Kara Young), Rafael (Reza Salazar), and Jason (Edmund Donovan) as they navigate life after incarceration. Fighting to stay out of the system, these troubled cooks are worked to the bone by their cantankerous boss Clyde (Uzo Aduba), a vicious egotist who takes her self-loathing out on her employees.

Despite their differences–and Jason’s white supremacist prison tats–the unlikely trio manage to find harmony and solidarity through the tutelage of Montrellous (Ron Cephas Jones), a wise older cook who mentors his peers in the “gospel of good eating.” During rare moments of respite from Clyde’s hilarious-yet-terrifying tirades, the cooks come together to dream of that most noble pursuit: creating the perfect sandwich.

Food is more than a plot point in Clyde’s–it’s the show’s foundation. “I was thinking about the tension of opposites in food, like savory and sweet,” Nottage tells me, recounting the writing process. “Things that are dissonant and harmonious, and how they shouldn’t work, but somehow when combined, they do.” By juxtaposing slice-of-life workplace comedy with precise social commentary, Nottage showcases her ability to mine the painful nuances of everyday life for much needed nuggets of humor. “After what we’ve been through this last year, people want to laugh,” Nottage says candidly. “People want to be reminded that, at the end of the tunnel, there is hope and joy.”

“Baby eggplant parmigiana with puttanesca on an olive and rosemary ciabatta,” Rafael pitches to the group in one scene. “Bacon, lettuce and grilled squash on cornbread with molasses butter,” Letitia responds. “Curried quail egg salad with mint on oven-fresh cranberry pecan multigrain bread,” Montrellous declares, getting the final word in before Clyde yells for American cheese on white, snapping everyone back to work.

When the cooks gather to share their ideas of the perfect sandwich, the entire pace on stage slows as the scene transforms into a stunning dream-like sequence heightened by lighting designer Christopher Akerlind’s use of cool colors and soft light. As the cooks are suddenly beamed into this realm of higher consciousness, the hyper-realistic greasy spoon designed by Takeshi Kata (featuring wall-to-wall safety posters and grimy handprints on the walk-in fridge door) completely fades into the distance. These scenes, which are one of the most captivating parts of the show, imbue Clyde’s with a buoyant sense of magical realism that underscore just how much these four people love to cook, and how little they’ve been allowed to dream because of their pasts.

“The plays that I write center people who have been marginalized by circumstance,” Nottage says, “who the American majority have not necessarily deemed worthy of placing center stage.” Clyde’s is a part of a long lineage of Nottage’s renowned plays–often directed by Whoriskey–that champion the stories of poor and working class underdogs. Their first collaboration, 2003’s Intimate Apparel, is about a Black seamstress named Esther who finds social freedom in early 1900s New York through her skills at the sewing machine. Another collaboration, 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner Ruined, revolves around a group of women trying to survive in a small tin mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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