Review: CLYDE'S at Syracuse Stage

This production runs through February 18th

By: Feb. 05, 2024
Review: CLYDE'S at Syracuse Stage

If you are hungry for some tasty theater that is fresh, natural and with just enough sizzle to keep you satisfied, get yourself down to Syracuse Stage to see Clyde's, a thoughtful and inspiring new play by Pulitzer Prize winner, Lynn Nottage. Set in a lonesome truck stop diner somewhere outside of Reading, Pennsylvania, what is on Clyde's menu is a socially conscious parable, layered with an authentic slice of life and wrapped in a bittersweet quixotic adventure: the search for the perfect sandwich.   It all may sound like a strange scenario but as Rafael the fry cook exclaims, "It tastes like the truth!"

Clyde, the owner of this roadside dive, is a hard boiled ex-con, world-weary, short on patience and bitter to the core. She runs this dead-end diner with the notion to be cheap, quick and profitable.  Willing to cut corners, she purchases low quality meats and vegetables at a bargain, knowing her customers will simply eat and move on down the road.  Likewise, she hires only ex-cons, not to help them but because they are trapped and easy to control.  She sees the world as a hopeless and heartless place, and life as a pessimistic power struggle to survive.  To her, dreams are weaknesses and it is always better to squelch ambitions and yearnings than become vulnerable.  Thrust into this cauldron of despair are four desperate people, all former convicts who have served their time. They too are world weary, battered by the experience of prison and saddled with the stigma that comes from the mistakes they have made.  But having entered this kitchen as cooks, they begin to simmer a craving for community, a haven from the world's hardships. They begin to percolate an ambition, a shared sense of hope, a desire to create a sublime sandwich, one that when eaten will prove their worth and satisfy their human need to "be seen."

Chip Miller masterfully directs a talented and inspired ensemble of actors and brings to life a world that is gritty and often funny, that soars poetically into a surreal parable about hope and redemption.  Andrea Vernae as Clyde embodies the ultimate demon boss. Her dominating presence is both physically and psychologically imposing. Her outrageous attitudes and over the top tirades engender both humor and menace.  She creates a presence that lingers well after she exits the scene.  Her foil comes in the person of Montrellous (Setareki Wainiqolo), her longest serving employee.  Larger than life, patient and encouraging, this working class mystic sees restorative beauty in home baked bread and artichokes.  As played by Wainiquolo, he is sage, a prophet of hope and halloumi, a veritable deli lama. Broad, gracious and open to possibilities, this Montrellous is a life affirming and restorative hug to Clyde's bitter slap. 

Added to this roiling mix are three cooks, Letitia (Lauren Steele), Rafael (Pascal Arquimedes) and Jason (Orion Bradshaw.) Each portrays a complex and dynamic character. Steele's Letitia initially comes across as sassy and self-confidant, Arquimedes' Rafael as frenetic and ebullient while Bradshaw's Jason is brooding, suspicious and angry.  Each presents to the world a protective mask that is slowly stripped away to expose fragile and sensitive souls. It's a credit to their talent that they so deftly peel back the layers of hardship to reveal the softness of their dreams.

The artistic team creates an ambience equal in excellent to Miller's ensemble. Britton Mauk's set design encapsulates the themes of the show. He builds a realistic looking diner oppressed by an old dilapidated sign on one side while on another side; a brighter, modern sign rises skyward. Phil Johnson's (sound designer) choices of salsa, hip hop and hard rock music supports and heightens the characterization and conflict in the play. Marika Kent's lighting design reflects the rapidly changing moods and emotions. Likewise, Dominique Fawn Hill designs costumes that are at once appropriate, comic and hip.  It is a rare theatrical treat when the various ingredients so perfectly meld.

Syracuse Stage is to be commended for offering a splendid theatrical repast. Clyde's entertains, illuminates and satisfies.  It serves up a world of possibilities if we a brave enough to be vulnerable and simply propose, "What if a sandwich represents our love?" It is a play to experience and savor, surely deserving a Michelin theatrical star.

Clyde's runs thru February 18th. Tickets can be purchased by going to SyracuseStage.org or by calling (315) 443-3275 or by visiting the box office at 820 East Genesee Street.




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