Lynn Notage is a well-known living playwright who has already earned two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama (2009 for “Ruined” and 2017 for “Sweat”). Notage focuses on the working class black experience, a theme which she continues in CLYDE’S, Mark Taper Forum’s 2022 dramatic offering. CLYDE’S first opened on Broadway in 2021 and won a fair share of awards, including a Tony Award in 2022 for outstanding featured actor and three Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding set design, outstanding costume design, and outstanding lighting design.
Clyde’s is a truck stop sandwich shop – whose long lines and eager clientele have deemed the sandwiches sublime. But that is only part of the story. Clyde’s is also owned by and staffed with ex-convicts and parolees, a sort of “last chance” for those who have reached the end of the line. Clyde is actually a shapely and vibrant black woman who manages her business with a brutal power reminiscent of the overseer during the old plantation days. After all, where can these sandwich-makers go if they fail at Clyde’s? And the world can be a very cold and unforgiving place for these working class undereducated folks.
But somehow making sandwiches has become an art – and a dream – for the lost souls who work there, including Montrellous (Kevin Kenerly), Letitia (Nedra Snipes), Rafael (Reza Salazar), and Jason (Garrett Young), the tatted-up newbie in the joint. For them, Clyde’s is not only a job, but a calling which gives them pride in their accomplishments as each works on designing the perfect sandwich – or is it the perfect life? Even if Clyde is a devilish person who works hard at tearing down their newly-crafted self-esteem, they persist in the indomitable way that we’ve all been raised to believe is part of our essential makeup. Alternating between excitement and hopelessness, pride and nothingness, these branded denizens from hell try to create their own heaven.
Cleverly helmed of Director Kate Whoriskey, CLYDE’S manages to slip humor inside tragedy and laughs inside failure while maintaining a compassionate perception of these downtrodden individuals who just won’t stay down. The performers each have a unique role in the tale which gives them time to shine and let their acting chops flow. Kudos to Perry (Clyde), the person you love to hate.
The production team does a bang-up job of creating an environment suitable to the often metaphorical story. Takeshi Kata’s scenic design sets the stage, while Jennifer Moeller’s costumes are just right to define each character. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting and Justin Ellington’s sound are reminiscent of the gaudy – like crackling bright neon signs often found atop truck stops – and besides add a sort of topsy-turvy element to the goings-on in Clyde’s kitchen.
CLYDE’S is an entertaining, often comic perspective on lives existing in the underbelly of our culture. It is also highly allegorical, telling its story in different layers which must slowly be pulled away in expose the core. It is a fascinating peek at what life may look like to the discarded in our society – but it also demonstrates that there may be a positive side to almost anything if we only seek it out. And remember that you’re not out until you give up.
CLYDE’S runs through December 18, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays (no 2 p.m. performance on 11/19/22). The Mark Taper Forum is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $35 to $120. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.