Set in the hectic kitchen of a truck-stop sandwich shop on a stretch of road in Berks County, PA, Clyde’s, by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage (Ruined; Sweat), dishes up a full and satisfying serving of hilarity and heart, hope and humanity, in its NYC premiere by Second Stage at Broadway’s Hayes Theater. Directed by Nottage’s long-time collaborator Kate Whoriskey and performed by a brilliant cast of five, the pace is fast and the laughs keep coming, as the previously incarcerated kitchen staff does battle with the mean, insensitive, and controlling owner, in an entertaining and uplifting journey towards purpose, redemption, and reclaiming life.
Three-time Emmy winner Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) stars in the titular role of the boss, who has a criminal history of her own and some questionable current dealings with the investors in her business. Her full-out vitriol and total lack of compassion for the employees, to whom she’s given a job and a second chance at life by hiring, are conveyed with unbridled delight, as she taunts, teases, abuses, and commands them, knowing they must submit to her, under the threat of being fired and having no place else to go, in a society that won’t accept them or allow them to move on after time served.
The colorful characters in the kitchen are portrayed with laugh-out-loud humor and compelling empathy by a roster of top-notch talents from the stage and screen, who comically battle but also come together, share their backstories and motivations, and provide a much-needed support system for one another and a united front against the hard-hearted Clyde. Ron Cephas Jones, a two-time Emmy Award-winner (This is Us), takes on the guiding role of the knowing elder Montrellous, a calming peaceful Zen-like presence who encourages them to take pride in their work and to find purpose in the dream of elevating their shop and profession by using their experience and knowledge to create an original recipe for the perfect sandwich – a quest at which Clyde scoffs.
In a stellar Broadway debut, Kara Young makes for a sidesplitting whirlwind as Tish, a very young over-burdened mother who is untrusting of men after being left largely unsupported by her unreliable baby daddy to provide for her chronically ill child. She is a fast-talking hot-dancing bundle of energy, whose rapid-fire delivery is as flawless as her moves and her attitude. Her co-worker Rafael, a recurrent drug-user played with amusing romantic neediness by Reza Salazar, is determined to win her over and devastated when his plans with her at first fail. And Edmund Donovan’s Jason, Clyde’s newest hire covered in offensive tattoos, is mostly uncommunicative, sometimes explosive, and initially out of his element (licking his fingers while preparing a sandwich, which drew audible groans of disgust and laughter from the audience), but ultimately becomes an integral part of the group, who comes to reveal his deep sorrow for past misdeeds to the understanding Monty, in one of the show’s most moving scenes.
Takeshi Kata’s scenic design conveys the ordinary familiarity of the sandwich shop, and costumes by Jennifer Moeller, with hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan, help to define the distinctive personalities – including the over-the-top ever-changing tacky but costly attire of Clyde, who’s clearly making money at the expense of her under-valued workers. The narrative is punctuated with surreal liminal segments signaled by dramatic shifts in lighting (by Christopher Akerlind) and an otherworldly soundscape (sound by Justin Ellington and original compositions by Justin Hicks) that add to the humor and leave us wondering at the end if Clyde will ever change her ways and appreciate the staff’s hard work and have “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” for their dream sandwich.
While Clyde’s is wildly funny, it also delivers the important human message that people make mistakes, have regrets, can change, and are deserving of a second chance. It will leave you rooting for the characters and hoping, as they do, that they can leave the past behind and move on to a better life.
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, without intermission.
Clyde’s plays through Sunday, January 16, 2022, at Second Stage Theater, performing at The Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $59-149), call (212) 541-4516, or go online. All audience members over the age of 12 must be fully vaccinated and proof of the vaccination will be required at the time of entry, along with a valid ticket for the production. Masks must be worn at all times in the theater, except when eating or drinking in designated areas only.
In partnership with Assemble Stream, Second Stage Theater will also offer simulcasts of the show, captured by five to seven cameras and edited live, for the final two weeks of its run (January 4-16) to a limited virtual audience. To purchase tickets for $59, click here.