Review: CLYDE'S at Ground Floor Theatre

Go see this show. It’s got all the perfect ingredients.

By: May. 20, 2024
Review: CLYDE'S at Ground Floor Theatre
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Ground Floor Theatre has cooked up another hit with their current production of Lynn Nottage’s CLYDE’S.  Forgive the pun. One of Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage’s recent plays, CLYDE’S premiered at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in 2021 before moving to Broadway later that year. The play is set in a truck-stop sandwich shop and centers around the lives of its formerly incarcerated kitchen staff, who are trying to rebuild their lives while contending with the tough-love, no-nonsense (I’m being kind here) owner, Clyde. The play skillfully combines humor and pathos, exploring themes of redemption, hope, and the struggle for a second chance in life. CLYDE’S is full of sharp dialogue, vivid characterizations, a blend of realism and some heartful magic. The play has been praised for its empathy and its nuanced exploration of the human condition, reinforcing Nottage's reputation as one of the most important and compassionate voices in contemporary American theater. What’s not to love about this successful recipe? Well… Clyde, maybe, and for all the right reasons… but we’ll get to that later.

Lynn Nottage is a highly acclaimed American playwright known for her deeply humanistic approach to storytelling and her focus on the lives of marginalized and underrepresented communities. She has received numerous awards for her work, including two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama for her plays RUINED (2008) and SWEAT (2017). She is the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. Nottage’s plays often explore themes of social justice, identity, and resilience, and she is recognized for her keen ability to blend humor and poignancy in her writing. Ground Floor Theatre’s CLYDE'S is all these things.

I suppose I should just confess. Ground Floor Theatre’s got it going on. Their mission is to “foster an environment for creative thinkers and artists to produce works with a focus on historically underrepresented communities,” and they “amplify and lift up voices that need to be heard to people who need to hear them… .” I’ve learned to expect this mission to shine through every show GFT produces. All their shows are “pay what you can,” so that theatre, and underrepresented voices can be seen and heard in the Austin area. And I’ve learned that GFT’s commitment to their mission clearly shows up in every show they produce. CLYDE’S is no exception. It is also no exception to GFT’s consistently solid and respectable production values.

Review: CLYDE'S at Ground Floor Theatre In the case of CLYDE’s, directors Carl Gonzales and Lacey Cannon Gonzales live up to my highest standard for any director. In short, their direction is invisible. There was virtually nothing to distract me from the story and the actors telling it. And the actors told it well.

When I see Zell Miller III (Montrellous) and Devin Finn (Jason) in any cast, I want a ticket. And after the performance of CLYDE’s I saw on opening night, Yunina Barbour-Payne (Clyde), Vivian Noble (Letitia) and Michael Galvan (Rafael) are penciled in on my list, too. Gonzales and Cannon Gonzales have assembled a talented and committed cast in CLYDE’S. Nottage’s script would be a gift to any cast, and this ensemble does not squander the gift they’ve been given.

Review: CLYDE'S at Ground Floor Theatre Galvan’s Rafael is earnest, enthusiastic, and ever so endearingly generous. He gives Rafael an infectious energy, devotion and loyalty. Noble gives Leticia great dimension in her character’s struggle to be a good human for her child, and maintain her own hard earned self-esteem.  Finn’s Jason is a big man made small, who is hoping to remain invisible so that he might live in some peace. Miller’s Montrellus is an (almost) unflappable Zen master of sandwich making, an anchor around which the rest of these formerly incarcerated characters converge. That is, except Clyde. As Clyde, Barbour-Payne gives us a most worthy and painfully uncaring villain. Clyde is entrenched in her own pain and serves as a stand-in for the excessively unforgiving and oppressive system each of these characters have a right to bitterly and angrily hope to escape. We see no trace of self-awareness in Clyde and I honor those who do this kind of work, tasked with playing a character that traumatizes others night after night. And if there should be those who feel Barbour-Payne chews the scenery, they’ve missed the point that Clyde chews the scenery. Like the oppressive shadow of a system that scarcely forgives the formerly incarcerated, Clyde lurks in the background, ready to take up narcissistic controlling space at any moment.

Review: CLYDE'S at Ground Floor Theatre

I’ve personally known and had great affinity for people whose circumstances weren’t that different than Jason, Leticia, and Rafael’s. Nottage knows these characters, and this cast knows their characters, too. They muddle through profoundly debilitating circumstances and find hope and each other anyway. Here in an insignificant truck stop sandwich shop, they grapple with their pasts and seek to rebuild their lives. They have a story. Their evolution, and the work of the actors embodying them, invites us to expand our understandingand appreciate those that we "other.” They are resilient and courageous.

As much as I fear Clyde would stifle my “five-star-would-recommend” review, I can’t stop myself. Go see this show. It’s got all the perfect ingredients.


by Lynn Nottage

Directed by Lacey Cannon Gonzales and Carl Gonzales

Ground Floor Theatre

979 Springdale Rd

Austin, TX, 78702

May 16 – June 1, 2024

ASL Interpreted Performance on May 25.

Ground Floor Theatre believes in “theatre for everyone” regardless of ability to pay, so tickets are always Pay What You Can. Suggested ticket prices are $25 for general admission and $40 for VIP. VIP seating includes a reserved seat, a glass of bubbly and the assurance of helping GFT keep the Pay What You Can policy.

Get tickets here

Run time: 1 hr 45 minutes with no intermission

Photo credit: Steve Rogers Photography


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