Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Junghyun Georgia Lee has created a surprisingly roomy set in Studio's endlessly flexible Victor Shargai Theater, with seats on three sides. This is the rather scruffy-looking industrial kitchen where senior sandwich maker Montrellous (Thompson) mentors Letitia (Kashayna Johnson), Rafael (Brandon Ocasio), and new hire Jason (Quinn M. Johnson) while regularly butting heads with shop owner Clyde (Batteast). Clyde only hires formerly incarcerated people, knowing they have few other options.
The primary conflict is between the preternaturally calm Montrellous–as one of his co-workers says, "He's like the Buddha if the Buddha grew up in the 'hood"–and the petty tyrant Clyde. He sees creating food as a form of mindfulness, filled with respect for the ingredients and indignation over, for example, adding pickle relish to a sandwich that doesn't need it. Clyde, on the other hand, just wants sandwiches made quick and dirty, with no artistry.
Batteast has a deceptively sweet face, but she never hides the glee Clyde takes in abusing her employees. She dresses to intimidate (hers are the standouts among Danielle Preston's costumes) and she can get away with reminding her employees that they are there to work, not to join in Montrellous' dream of creating the perfect sandwich. Thompson, meanwhile, gives a hypnotic, mostly soft-spoken performance as mentor to the younger employees: outspoken Latino Rafael (Ocasio); exhausted single mother Letitia (Kashayna Johnson); and Jason (Quinn M. Johnson), the only white employee, who is trying to outrun the shadow of the violent act that sent him to prison.
Another highlight of Nottage's play is how quotable it is. Most of these are Montrellous' statements of purpose, such as "You're disrespecting the lettuce" and "We leave the pain in the pan," and his description of the sandwich as "the most democratic food," since anything can go between two slices of bread.
One special note: this production must be one of the few to employ a sensory consultant. Miriam Songster uses essential oils and the scents of actual cooking to make the audience members feel (on a subliminal level) that they're working alongside the characters.
Clyde's runs through April 9, 2023, at Studio Theatre, Victor Shargai Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.
By Lynn Nottage
Clyde: Dee Dee Batteast