Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The kitchen crew–territorial Letitia (Cyndii Johnson), ebullient Rafael (Wesley Guimãraes), and newbie Jason (Louis Reyes McWilliams)–are led by their sandwich "sensei" Montrellous (Harold Surratt), who encourages his crew to dream big. At least in terms of the culinary delights to be found beneath two slices of bread. The combinations suggested may get your mouth watering: grilled halloumi on homemade herb focaccia, or pulled pork with pickled onions and blueberry compote on a soft pretzel roll, to name two of the dozen or so recipes Montrellous and his crew come up with. But good luck with Clyde at the helm. She figures all her clientele care about are ham and cheese on Wonder Bread, and when she buys some sketchy fish that she compels the staff to use, sniffs at it and says, "Did I vomit? Then it's fine." All she seems to care about is paying off her gambling debts to some shady characters (who are unseen and only occasionally referenced). "Don't disappoint me by having aspirations," she says at one point.
Despite this nonstop dream-quashing, over time, Montrellous's crew become enraptured by their leader's vision of sandwiches as something more than mere calories to fuel the truckers on to their next destination. For Rafael, Letitia, and Jason, Montrellous is "like the Buddha. If he had grown up in the 'hood." There's a delightful scene near the end of this 90-minute intermission-less comic drama where the crew make a sort of "I am Spartacus" stand by refusing a customer's demand for relish on a sandwich they believe that condiment would ruin.
Clyde, played with a delicious venom by Nixon, is almost like a vengeful Greek god, occasionally coming down from Olympus to foment a little chaotic cruelty on the mere mortals who populate her domain. The costumes by Karen Perry reinforce her untamed nature, with animal prints, snakeskin patterns, and even a dress with only one sleeve that looks like a dragon's scaly tail.
These four convicted felons–all of whom served their time and are desperate to leave the past in the past–are wonderfully drawn characters, thanks to the skills of two-time Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage. Rafael is a big softie: imprisoned after holding up a bank with a BB gun in order to buy his then-girlfriend a purebred dog. He's still on the make, but this time it's toward Letitia. After one of his overtures to her he says, "I'm just putting it out there," to which she snaps, "Well put it back in there!" Letitia may have the biggest challenges of the four, with a daughter with muscular dystrophy (her crime was breaking into a pharmacy to steal the anti-convulsive meds her daughter required but that she couldn't afford) and a useless baby daddy.
The least believable of Montrellous's team is the newest cook, Jason. He's covered with white supremacist tattoos (including a bold "blood & honor" across his neck), which he claims he got to survive in prison. As written by Nottage, he's a bit of a pushover, and it's a wonder he survived life inside, despite having submitted to the demands of the Aryan Brotherhood.
The cast is nicely balanced, and the direction (by Taylor Reynolds) is seamless, with each vignette flowing smoothly into the next. Though I prefer her more strongly plotted work, such as Intimate Apparel or Ruined, Clyde's nevertheless has a strong dramatic pull as her characters slowly reveal both their dreams and their regrets. The sandwiches–and the diner itself (designed with incredible realism by Wilson Chin)–become symbols of the ex-cons' hopes for better times. By the time Clyde's the play reaches its climax, the kitchen crew may finally have realized their dreams of the perfect sandwich may be more than symbolic.
Clyde's runs through February 26, 2023, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Peet's Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley CA. Shows are Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m., Wednesdays at 7:00pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Saturdays and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. There is also a 1:00 p.m. matinee on February 2. Tickets are $25-$127, with discounts available for students, seniors, and groups. For tickets and information, please visit www.berkeleyrep.org, or call the box office at 510-647-2949.