Assessment | At Studio Theatre, Lynn Nottage’s ‘Clyde’s’ serves up hope and humor


Don’t inform the road cooks at Clyde’s {that a} sandwich is just the stuff of lunchboxes and hurried meals at workplace desks. For the ex-convict characters in “Clyde’s,” the humorous and transferring, if flawed, Lynn Nottage play directed by Candis C. Jones at Studio Theatre, a sandwich is way more.

“It’s probably the most democratic of all meals. … It invitations invention and collaboration,” rhapsodizes Montrellous (performed by Lamont Thompson with Zen grasp aplomb), a sandwich-making visionary who works on the truck-stop greasy spoon run by Clyde (Dee Dee Batteast, daring and assured). Dreaming up bread-enclosed delicacies (suppose Maine lobster with truffle mayo and fennel on a potato roll), Montrellous evokes his fellow kitchen drudges to see themselves not as ex-felons determined for a job however as culinary artists.

They get no assist from Clyde, whose menu beliefs rise to ham-and-cheese on white. Worse, the ruthless businesswoman is a tyrannical sadist, ceaselessly bullying her workers: “I can get a recent batch of nobodies to do your job,” she taunts at one level. It’s a characterization that, not less than right here, turns into monotonous with out being absolutely revealing. One longs for extra diverse, satisfying perception into what makes Clyde tick.

Happily, the portrait of the striving-for-redemption line cooks is richer, and the sharp performances at Studio capitalize on that. Erstwhile financial institution robber Rafael (Brandon Ocasio, radiating spot-on verve and earnestness) has discovered from Montrellous to aspire to sandwich sublimity. So has the vivacious however anxious Letitia (a terrific Kashayna Johnson), who’s mom to a baby with a incapacity. With the arrival of a brand new worker, Jason (Quinn M. Johnson, persuasively intense), who has white supremacist tattoos, tensions rise.

Jason shall be acquainted to audiences who’ve seen “Sweat,” Nottage’s exploration of American industrial decline, which in 2017 made her the primary lady to win two Pulitzer Prizes for drama. (Her Congo-set “Ruined” earned her first, in 2009.) In reality, “Clyde’s” is ready in the identical hard-up Pennsylvania neighborhood as “Sweat.” Amid “Clyde’s” droll, aioli-referencing banter, the play teases out its characters’ backstories in a method that displays on a few of the grim systemic issues that “Sweat” additionally contemplated: America’s insufficient social security web. An absence of second possibilities. Capitalism’s facility for exacerbating racial, ethnic and sophistication fault strains.

These somber notes register extra clearly in Jones’s manufacturing than do the comedian ones, which isn’t a criticism. (Advertising and marketing supplies time period the play a comedy.) Some terrific directorial touches linger, corresponding to when three characters decant olive oil in sync, the golden lighting and jazzy instrumentals heightening the sense that the trio has achieved a state of movement. (Colin Ok. Payments is lighting designer; sound design and unique music are by Matthew M. Nielson.)

Including texture is Junghyun Georgia Lee’s splendidly detailed restaurant-kitchen set. As if that weren’t sufficient naturalism, the playbill additionally lists “sensory consultants” Miriam Songster and Kate McLean, who contributed delicate subtle aromas, corresponding to that of thyme and toasting bread. (D.C. audiences will admire that Ben’s Chili Bowl is listed as a “sandwich guide” for this manufacturing.)

The vividness of the setting drives dwelling the battle of the ex-convicts — being a line cook dinner at Clyde’s is not any simple life — and underscores their achievements in turning sandwiches into hope.

Clyde’s, by Lynn Nottage. Directed by Candis C. Jones; costume design, Danielle Preston; props, Deb Thomas. 100 minutes. $50-$95. Via April 9 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. 202-332-3300.

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