By Vicki Weisfeld
Opening night of the dramedy Clyde’s at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was a lively evening, despite the chill outside. The original Broadway production of Clyde’s received multiple awards and is one of two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s trilogy of stories set in Reading, Pennsylvania. She calls Clyde’s the series’ “grace note.” Directed by Melissa Maxwell, the New Brunswick production opened February 3 and runs through February 19.
Before the action even starts, the audience is treated to the “backstage” view of a diner (named Clyde’s), which specializes in sandwiches. The clever use of neon, the battered kitchen equipment, mop pail, staff lockers, and other accouterments—the set’s terrific. But if it jibes with what you imagine a diner kitchen might look like, the staff may surprise you. The diner owner, Clyde (played by Darlene Hope) served prison time for something her employees are not quite sure what. What they do know is that somewhere along the way, her compassion for others was knocked out of her. She’s a terrible and terrifying boss.
Clyde’s four staff members are all ex-cons too, but a decade or so younger than she is. Don’t mistake her hiring them for a generous heart. She’s hired a staff that doesn’t have many other employment choices, and she knows it. There’s Montrellous (Gabriel Lawrence) who sees sandwich-making as an art and tries to elevate the sandwich-making (and life) aspirations of the rest of the staff—Letitia (Sydney Lolita Cusic), Jason (Ryan Czerwonko) and the fry-cook, Rafael (Xavier Reyes). The lettuce flies while a lot of sandwiches are made, troubles explained, and secrets shared. They’ve had troubles, but at Clyde’s they can be an uneasy team, with an abundance of witty banter. One recurrent bit: they try to outdo each other in describing ingredients of the most “perfect” sandwich. (Don’t go to this show hungry!)
Despite the many genuine laughs, Nottage reveals how hard they have to work to make a life outside prison. She lets you see a very specific world you won’t soon forget. Entertaining and indelible.
Production credits to Riw Rakkulchon (set designer), Azalea Fairly (costumes; something must be said about the awe-inspiring skin-tight costumes and high-heel boots Clyde wears that fit her perfectly, in every sense), Cheyenne Sykes (lighting), Scott O’Brien (composer/sound designer), Fre Howard (wig and makeup design) and Cristina (Cha) Ramos (fights and intimacy).
Clyde’s is on stage at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center. Tickets available here or by calling 732-246-7717. Check the website for current information on NBPAC’s covid requirements.