Chill is the last thing that you find in this Broadway premiere of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage’s play. With passion, laughter, and a redemptive approach, Nottage tackles the conversation of life after incarceration from a unique perspective.
Clyde’s quickly introduces us to its colorful characters with interesting stories to tell. Through hard-edged comedy and expository conversation, Nottage wastes no time introducing the colorful kitchen at this greasy spoon. Tish (Kara Young) is a fast-talking young mother whose trust has been broken by the men in her life. Rafael (Reza Salazar) has a crush on his Tish and struggles with recurrent drug use. Jason (Edmund Donovan) is a newly hired employee with an edge. He provides some of the production’s most gag-inducing moments (particularly when he licks his fingers while preparing a sandwich, triggering COVID flags for sure).
Perhaps the most notable employee is Montrellous (Ron Cephas Jones). Jones, most known for his Emmy Award-winning role on This Is Us, brings levity to the piece with his calm demeanor.
One would be remiss not to mention the eponymous restaurant owner Clyde, portrayed by Uzo Aduba. Aduba is most widely known for her seven-season run on Orange Is the New Black. Here, however, she takes on a much different persona as Clyde’s much more brash, bold, and unapologetic restaurateur. Clyde achieves villain status as her means to keep her employees in line are not always diplomatic or morally sound.
Kate Whoriskey’s direction seems a bit chaotic at times. Much of the dialogue is shouted from the actors, whose more tender moments get lost in their need to project to the back of the house. Since much of the action calls for the actors to run around the stage from workstation to workstation, it was difficult to focus on which moments were key.
Takeshi Kata’s scenic design provided a familial restaurant kitchen atmosphere with the proper tools in place. Jennifer Moeller’s costumes, along with Cookie Jordan’s wigs and Kirk Cambridge-Del Peches’ makeup helped to define characters. Most noteworthy, however, was Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design which skillfully spotlighted the more enlightened moments (pun, intended) of Nottage’s play. In fact, Akerlind’s lighting, against Justin Hicks’ original music, offered the audience dream-like glimpses into each character’s inner thoughts and feelings.
Despite suffering from internet and streaming issues, Clyde’s was an enjoyable way to spend an icy North Carolina day at home. It’s a meaty subject matter that was seasoned well enough to provide an interesting production. At its close, Clyde’s was one of three new pieces—along with MJ and Intimate Apparel—by Nottage running simultaneously, a truly remarkable feat for any playwright.
J. Mardrice Henderson is part of the Beltline to Broadway 2022 Critics Cohort.