The intimacy of Theaterworks Hartford’s theater ushers us into this greasy spoon and me
into a sense of familiarity, brought to bear by my own personal kitchen chronicles. Writer
Lynn Nottage with the direction of Mikael Burke brings the funk of lowbrow culinary
offerings with the dreams of sublime cooking to a head in Clyde’s. While unpacking the plight of
ex-offenders and their attempts to emerge from their shame back into society, this show also
layers its themes of race and gender as it pertains to the prison industrial complex and the
indignity affixed to those who attempt to be reinstated into their lives —only to realize nothing is the same. Although Clyde’s is not suitable for young people due to language, adult themes, and
strong visual euphemisms, a lot can be gleaned from the very real conversations this production
sparks, by age-appropriate audience members.
Clyde serves as a representative of the prison industrial complex, as is reflected in her warden-
like management of her employees. Clyde is a domineering, sadistic, ex-con who wears her
bitterness on the hem of her lavish, form-fitting garb that costume designer, Alexis Carrie seems
to intentionally choose to vividly contrasts the costume of Clyde’s employees. In a standard
trickle-down effect, the iron fist with which she controls her establishment is mirrored in the
tension between newcomer Jason, played by David T. Patterson, and the original crew Letitia and
Rafael, played by Ayana Bria Bakari and Samuel Maria Gomez. Tensions rise as the short-order
cooks explore each other’s stories, organically brought up in heat-of-the-moment situations that
beg them all to generously apply grace in the space of their differences.
Michael Chenevert, in his depiction of Montrellous, the purported lifer, holds a mythological air
in the reverence shown him by Letitia and Rafael. Montrellous or Monty as he is fondly called,
serves as a symbol of growth, hope, and the Christ-like sacrifice that directly contrasts Clyde’s
hellish disposition. Montrellous’s stance as a picture of inspiration dances like a flame threatened by the shift in the air around it, all while Letitia, Rafael, and Jason are pulled back and forth between the forces of promise and despair. Bakari’s portrayal serves us an image of a hardened shell, spritzed with a judgmental attitude, around a sweet and sensitive center — her joy makes us laugh and smile, and her pain brings us to the brink of tears.
In equal part, Gomez, the fiery soul with a Latin flare triggers our entire spectrum of emotions. If there is anyone to root for, it is the lover and fighter that is Rafael. Gomez’s emotions are raw and his pivot between bitter heartbreak and comedic pettiness takes the audience for a ride.
While Patterson’s indifference triggers our own, as he unfolds, and becomes enveloped in the
dynamic of the crew, we are all too eager to take him in too.
Lighting designer Eric Watkins starts us out with a slightly Wes Anderson hue to the set and
transitions us between scenes, providing an eerie flickering light to accompany the sound of what
can possibly be described as hell’s gates opening. Sound designer, Christie Chiles Twillie, offers
an underworld-themed sound that follows Clyde and plays up the hilarity of her villainy when
we aren’t forced to face the realities of the implied experiences that hardened her.
The authenticity of Collette Pollard’s set design adds to the depicted dreariness of the job— from
the grease stains on and around the fryer to the hodgepodge of condiments, seasonings, and
disposable concession trays strategically placed beneath the grease hood for easy access— the
stage set the tone for the gang’s familiarity as well as their contempt for the establishment.
The dialogue, delivered partially in what feels like a spoken-word-style matter-of-factness, offers a poetic tint to the hard-to-swallow discussions. Chenevert’s shaman-like wisdom, Bakari and Gomez’s will-they-won’t-they banter and comedic timing coupled with Patterson’s daring
proclamations against the nails-on-a-chalkboard tone of Phipps’ taunting all set the stage for a
compelling depiction of “intangible graces of flavors and aromas that tell your story” —while
unearthing the truth behind prison being “the great equalizer.”
What’s your perfect sandwich? Mine? Something that offers a little of everything— turkey cuts
on lightly toasted garlic naan, buttered with Sabra’s roasted red pepper hummus. But, not without
some shredded lettuce, a couples slices of crisp tomatoes, a few small round sweet pickles, a
dash of Himalayan pink salt and cracked black pepper, and a side of Miss Vickie’s jalapeño
kettle chips— washed down with an iced ginger lemon green tea with agave to taste.
The recurrence of the perfect sandwich discussion, amid their respective and communal trials, is
like a trick candle, reigniting each time we think their hope has been put out. The war between
their “we leave the pain in the pan” and Clyde’s “don’t get too high on hope” resonates with us
You can catch a showing of Clyde’s at Theaterworks Hartford, extended through August 5th.