I’m so so hungry. I’ve just been listening to four characters—kitchen workers in Clyde’s diner—describe their ideal sandwich. Many different sandwiches. Delectable ingredients.
But I’m certainly not hungry for more theater: Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s is a meaty play, completely satisfying, especially as directed by Malika Oyetimein at the Arden Theatre. The ingredients here—terrific actors playing lovable characters, important issues, snappy dialogue and plenty of comedy—make this another of Nottage’s insightful plays about people who are struggling to make a living and make a life. Consider her two powerful Pulitzer winners, Sweat and Ruined.
The set, designed by Kyu Shin, tells us much of what we need to know about Clyde’s diner, a run-down, barely making ends meet (excellent detail of the mousetrap on the floor). The kitchen workers are all former felons, as is Clyde (the fierce and sexy Tiffany Barrett dressed to the teeth by Ilycia Buffaloe), She’s the only one who would give them all jobs after they came out of prison. In exchange, they have to tolerate her orders, her meanness, her threats. She tells them, “don’t disappoint me by having aspirations” and right there is the play’s set-up.
They tolerate this second loss of freedom in different, personality-revealing ways. Jason (Brian Cowden) the newest member of this crew, arrives covered with prison tats and hates looking at himself in a mirror. Montrellous (Walter DeSheilds) is the saintly philosopher of the group (“like a Buddha who grew up in the hood”), and a genius at sandwich-creation. Rafael (J. Hernandez) (“I’m not a dishwasher, I’m a sous-chef, bitch”) strives for the “sublime.” Tish (Kishia Nixon) is adorable as the beleaguered mother of a damaged child. Everybody’s got troubles, everybody’s got guilt.
The collectively assembled sandwich, spotlit and alone onstage at the end, is, perhaps, the most moving food I’ve ever seen. Off to home before I eat the prop.
[Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd Street] January 26-March 12, 2023; ardentheatre.org