Review: CLYDE'S at Karma

While Karma's talky CLYDE'S is sad and frustrating, it is also filled with comedy and a hopeful ending.

By: Sep. 24, 2023
Review: CLYDE'S at Karma

Lynn Nottage, the author of CLYDE’S, now in production at Karamu, is the first woman to win two Pulitzer Prizes for works of drama. 

She tends to write about people trapped in abusive type relationships.

As the director’s program notes state, “[Nottage] gives voice to the voiceless and overlooked. . . creating relatable humans to draw you in while offering a mirror for reflection.”  

In her play RUINED, the women were the target of terrorists in the Congolese civil war.

In SWEAT, steelworkers resisting their union-busting management inexorably wind up busting one another.

CLYDE’S finds former incarnated kitchen staff members working at a truck-stop sandwich shop in Reading, Pennsylvania, attempting to rebuild their lives but, but their tough-as-nails boss Clyde enjoys pointing out, she’s the only employer in the area who will hire “morons” like them. She does so not because she too was once incarcerated. (Of the crime that landed her in prison the only thing she says is that the last man who tried to hurt her “isn’t around to try again, I made damn sure of that.”)  She is a woman who appears to have an unsatisfying life and finds great pleasure in making life miserable for others.

In order to make life bearable, each staff member is encouraged by the chef to indulge in imagining, then creating their perfect sandwich, thus, he believes, that they can transcend their mistakes and reconnect with the world.

Each has a tale, which gradually unfolds.

Letitia “got greedy” and stole “some oxy and addy to sell on the side” after breaking into a pharmacy to obtain “seizure medication” for her daughter.

Rafael held up a bank but with a BB gun, because he wanted to buy his girlfriend a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

We don’t at first get the story of how Montrellous wound up behind bars, but he is so saintly that Letitia believes it must have been elective.

CLYDE’S is about dark things, including prison, drugs, homelessness and poverty, yet it has many comic moments.

The 90-minute play without an intermission, under the direction of Treva Offutt, is satisfying in some aspects, frustrating in others.

For the play to work, because of the realism of the writing, the people on stage must be real, not acting.  Jaren Hodgson (Jason), Maxx (Letitia), Prophet Seay (Montrellous) and Jonathan Rodriguez (Raphael) are all spot on.  Unfortunately, whether directed to do so, or having created the role herself, Dayshawnda Ash (Clyde), though she has some fine moments, generally acts, poses and creates a caricature rather than the necessary authentic person.

Richard H. Morris, Jr.’s realistic set design works well and Dred Gelb must have cleaned out a local restaurant for all the authentic utensils and other props which add to the authenticity of the prep room.  Too bad the same cannot be said as to the preparation of the food served.  A pita with a couple of pieces of vegetables in it does not a sandwich make.  Where were the sides in serving baskets?  Where is the realistic prepping and serving of food?  If we don’t see real, we cannot believe in real.

Capsule judgment: Though very talky, with little to no action, CLYDE’S, with its many laughs, makes for an interesting evening of theatre. Fortunately, it ends with a positive, though some might think, unrealistic message.

For tickets call Karamu, 216-795-7077 or go to the link below.

Next up:  12/1-16/2023—Langston Hughes’ BLACK NATIVITY (presented at Cleveland Play House)—The soulful, heartwarming story, gospel celebration.

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