Clyde’s is a truck stop diner somewhere on the highway. We meet and learn the skills and stories of the four prep cooks, all of whom are ex-convicts, trying to get a new start. Clyde, the owner, is an ex-con too. Her costumes add to her story: she wears skin-tight/don’t-fuck-with-me dresses or tight leather pants and doesn’t have a kind word for anyone. Danielle Davis, the understudy who took over the part on opening night, does a smashing job as Clyde.
Lynn Nottage’s script offers plenty of intriguing elements for director Kate Whoriskey, who has often worked with the playwright. The four cooks are led by Montrellous (Kevin Kenerly), who the others see as the high priest of sandwich making. Montrellous inspires the others to always be on the search for the perfect sandwich—even if a trucker only wants ketchup on his tuna sandwich.
The other cooks are Rafael (Reza Salazar, who played the role on Broadway), who is kinda sweet on Letitia (known as Tish and played by Nedra Snipes), who has a sick child and a useless ex. Jason (Garrett Young) was in prison for nearly killing someone; his tattoos suggest he’s a White nationalist but he insists they were only prison survival tats.
The people are an interesting crew and we see them grow together and become a work family during the play.
Clyde’s is more than a truck stop diner, however. The setting note in the program defines it as a liminal space—and that phrase sent weird signals to my brain. All the people working at Clyde’s are in a liminal space, a transitional space, a limbo. And does Clyde herself have a satanic personality? She’s said to have sold her soul to get this joint, Rafael tells us. In another scene, Montrellous tells his acolytes, “We all make our choices. You never know whatcha gonna do when you meet the devil at the crossroads.” A reference to Robert Johnson, of course, the early blues guitar player who played a fiery guitar after his perhaps apocryphal meeting with the devil at a crossroads. The lighting in Clyde’s adds a glow, some flames and fire to the story. (Lighting design by Christopher AkerLind and pyrotechnics by Black Circle Creative.) And where do the four prep cooks slip off to at the end? That would be a spoiler, if I knew.
You can enjoy Nottage’s play as a story of four people trying to make new lives beginning in a sandwich shop. Their distinctive personalities, coalesced by Montrellous’ Buddha-like calm, make them a team by the end of Clyde’s. (He tells Tish she will make great sandwiches if she leaves the chaos at home and learns to “be here and nowhere else.”)
You can enjoy all that. And, if you are so inclined, you can go along with my speculation that Nottage is also creating a diner-variation, a literary limbo, drawing from Dante’s Purgatory. (And why not? James Ijames’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning Fat Ham is a Hamlet story about a queer Black man set at a backyard barbecue. Classical theater lives and breathes in a contemporary setting.)
Clyde’s is a thought-provoking play with sharply directed kitchen choreography (and knife work) by director Whoriskey, who directed Clyde’s (and Sweat) on Broadway. Set design is by Takeshi Kata with sound design by Justin Ellington. Costumes are by Jennifer Moeller and hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan. Stage manager is Edward Khris Fernandes with Nikki Blue as production stage manager.
Clyde’s was first produced at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and opened on Broadway in November 2021. Nottage, who received a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship in 2007, has won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama for Ruined and Sweat. Her other plays include Intimate Apparel, which she recently adapted as an opera at Lincoln Center Theater, Crumbs From the Table of Joy and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark. She teaches in the Columbia University School of the Arts.
Clyde’s continues at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., through October 9. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $25-$80 for performances Wednesday-Sunday with a Tuesday performance on October 4. Matinee and evening shows are performed on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
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