Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 17, 2023

REVIEW: TheaterWorks Hartford, "Clyde’s"

TheaterWorks Hartford, Hartford, CT
through July 30, 2023
by Jarice Hanson  
Two time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lynn Nottage’s most recent Broadway hit, Clyde’s is a masterful comedy that makes you feel good and gives you a lot to think about. The production currently running at TheaterWorks Hartford features an exceptionally adept ensemble cast that transcend what could be stereotypical characters, to form a tight knit family of sympathetic, fully-realized individuals who touch the audiences’ collective heart.
The beautifully rendered, realistic set designed by Collette Pollard makes you feel that you’re in the kitchen of a greasy spoon diner, somewhere along a highway where truckers are the primary customers. Country music plays in the background as the characters are introduced;  Clyde (Latonia Phipps) is the authoritarian proprietor who, at one point, is referred to, as “a licensed dominatrix."  Montrellous (Michael Chenevert) is the senior member of the kitchen staff who continually thinks about how new, more delicious sandwiches could be the ticket out of Clyde’s and on to better things. Letitia (Ayanna Bria Bakari) is a single mother of a disabled daughter who needs the job desperately, and Rafael (Samuel Maria Gomez) is the “sous chef” who mans the griddle. Into this eclectic group comes Jason (David T. Patterson), with a face and body full of tattoos proclaiming his penchant for white supremacy. The only thing all of the characters have in common is that every one (including Clyde) is a former prison inmate.
Nottage is a national treasure when it comes to capturing American culture by shining a spotlight on our commonalities rather than our differences.  Her work allows us to contextualize situations and empathize with the characters, all of whom have a backstory that would excite a novice social worker. Director Mikael Burke skillfully weaves each character’s life story into a colorful, bold tapestry that is intensely optimistic and self-affirming. The actors almost dance in the busy kitchen choreography that juxtaposes the mundane world of sandwich making with growing pride in themselves and what they do. Each one of them is honest, to a degree, and the honesty they discover about themselves in this 90 minute one act is an optimistic prism that drives the action of the show forward. 
Photo by Mike Marques
There have been other, equally compelling stories on stage and television recently that set the action in a professional, high-stakes kitchen. Theresa Rebeck’s comedy Seared, and the hit Hulu Series The Bear both come to mind—but Nottage’s play has an added element of whimsy and fantasy about these characters that the other productions lack.  This is not a spoiler, but it is a delicious detail that provides a hint of the unique take on the workplace comedy that is Clyde’s. As the marquee reminds us, “the devil’s in the details.”

This fast, funny comedy will have you smiling throughout the play, and there are wonderful surprises and events that will have you laughing out loud. This is a not-to-be-missed production.