Thursday, April 25, 2024

If You Ask Me: “Clyde’s”

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Clyde’s Delivers at TheaterWorks Hartford

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

One of the most produced plays currently in the country, Lynn Nottage’s sandwich shop comedy, Clyde’s, is now on the boards at TheaterWorks Hartford.  Nottage is the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for her far more serious plays, Ruined and “Sweat. Clyde’s is a nice diversion for the author and very well served in Hartford.

At Clyde’s, a truck stop sandwich shop in some undisclosed location, the kitchen staff is made up of the formerly incarcerated looking for a shot at redemption. Even as Clyde (Latonia Phipps, trying hard), the shop’s hateful owner attempts to keep them down, the staff members attempt to survive their complicated lives, reclaim their dignity and find purpose.  Part of that dream involves creating the “perfect sandwich” and, under the tutelage of father figure Montrellous (Michael Chenevert), the employees take turns coming up with various mouth-watering recipes.

Without giving away too much (although the play’s surprise is somewhat obvious from the start), Clyde intends to keep her underlings firmly under her thumb but single mom Letitia (Ayanna Bria Bakari), fry cook Rafael (Samuel Maria Gomez) and new hire Jason (a terrific David T. Patterson) will have none of it.  One of the great things about Nottage’s accomplished writing is the time and care she gives each character’s backstory.  By the end of a brisk 95 minute running time (without intermission), you feel you have lived real lives here.  It is also an important reminder that those who have paid their debt to society don’t always have an easy time rejoining the workaday world.

All the acting is first-rate though Phipps doesn’t always quite suggest the monster within.  There is a consistent and free-wheeling repartee between the staff members headed by Chenevert who, although too young for the role, is a calming presence throughout.  Bakari and Gomez enjoy a flirtatious back and forth but Patterson is in another league playing a sad-sack screw-up saddled with guilt for his crime and over white supremacists tattoos forced on him in prison.  The entire company works as a true ensemble.

The perfectly detailed kitchen set by Collette Pollard is terrific while also causing blocking problems for director Mikael Burke.  Actors are often squeezed in front or in direct line of each other causing too many lines to be delivered upstage.  Sound (Christie Chiles Twillie) and lighting (Eric Watkins) are faultless, however.  In all, Clyde’s is a location you might want to visit very soon.

Clyde’s has already been extended at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl Street, through August 5th.  For further information, call: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.twhartford.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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