Clyde's @ The Arden: A Satisfying Sandwich.
Updated: Feb 8
What good is a second chance if no one is going to give you hope that it will succeed?
This question provides the running theme in Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage, currently playing at the Arcadia Stage of the Arden Theatre Company. While the play cleverly avoids giving a concrete answer to that question, it challenges audiences to reach their own conclusions, and makes sure to showcase the humor and humanity along the way.
The show takes place at the titular Clyde’s, a truck stop sandwich shop where all of the employees are formerly incarcerated people, including the owner and namesake. Each of the characters is trying to better their lives through the art of sandwich making; at least, that is what the head cook Montrellous wants for all of his coworkers. However, they are frequently deterred by Clyde, who is not sure that these people can actually change, and serves as a hilarious foil for them all.
As someone who has worked in...questionable food service establishments, I was delighted at the attention to detail (and having some vividly harrowing flashbacks).
The Arden's production is truly a delight to behold. The interior restuarant kitchen set, brilliantly designed by Kyu Shin and decorated by Shane Dreher and Scott McMaster, immediately sets the scene of what kind of establishment Clyde’s is. A little grimy, a bit past its prime, in need of some new equipment; it tells you that this is not a high end establishment, with uneven flooring, disheveled appliances and overstocked shelving. As someone who has worked in...questionable food service establishments, I was delighted at the attention to detail (and having some vividly harrowing flashbacks).
I will fully admit to not knowing what this show was about before seeing it, but it was not at all what I was expecting. The show is quick and the jokes are plenty, helped by amazing performances from the whole cast. I have honestly not laughed this much at a play in a long time. Special shout-outs have to go to Kishia Nixon and J. Hernandez as Letitia and Rafael, respectively. Their chemistry is electric and they play off of each other so well., immediately feeling like the coworkers that you bond with when you work in a "trial-by-fire" workplace, and their arcs throughout the show are really wonderful.
I’d be remiss not to discuss Clyde, who owns the restaurant and is brilliantly brought to life by Tiffany Barrett. She is hysterical, with her Clyde both authentically human, but also comically villainous. Huge accolades to Costume Designer Ilycia Buffaloe for Clyde’s costumes as well. While all of the character’s outfits are wonderful, the styling and outfits for Clyde tell you exactly the type of cutthroat, no-nonsense woman she is. I was excited for every entrance, not just for Barrett’s performance, but also to see what sickening outfit Buffaloe was going to reveal for Clyde next.
The show itself raises some very interesting questions about what second chances people deserve, and what they can look like. Is not the goal of incarceration to rehabilitate people? What of the prison industrial complex?
...there were moments where I felt like Nottage wanted to dive deeper into these bigger problems and ideas surrounding the prison industrial complex, but she chose not to.
These are extremely interesting and nuanced conversations, but surprisingly, this show doesn’t delve too deeply into either. Instead it chooses to focus on the actual people who were incarcerated and how they can move forward. It focuses on how we treat these people and why society tends to mistreat them, without a shred of humanity. As an audience member, there were moments where I felt like Nottage wanted to dive deeper into these bigger problems and ideas surrounding the prison industrial complex, but she chose not to. While I respect this choice, I am also extremely interested to hear her thoughts on these questions, and in my opinion the choice to shift focus away from them leaves the show feeling a bit more aimless thematically than it could.
Director Malika Oyetimein is well aware of this choice, as stated brilliantly in her director's note, and stages the show with a deft hand that makes it feel wonderfully farcical and human. The action keeps moving, with nary a blackout until the end. The frenetic energy of a restaurant kitchen is exceptionally established and maintained throughout, with dinging bells, order slips and many a chopped vegetable.
Clyde’s is a hysterical time at the theatre, and well-worth the trip! While the show might not delve too deeply into complicated problems of social justice, it does well to remind us that we are all human and make mistakes. The important part is that we continue to work on ourselves and each other. Whether that be through making sandwiches, planning dates, or simply going to work and showing up.