Review: CLYDES At Ensemble Theatre Is a Masterclass Production

Production runs until April 16th, 2023

By: Mar. 27, 2023
Review: CLYDES At Ensemble Theatre Is a Masterclass Production

Do you ever feel anxious at work? Tired? Maybe you are stressed because your home life is chaotic. Now add the pressure that you are formerly incarcerated, and your boss (who was also in prison) consistently uses this fact against you. On top of which, your work is making sandwiches at a busy truck stop with never-ending pressure and a toxic work environment. This scenario from acclaimed playwright Lynn Nottage is Clydes, currently in production at Houston's The Ensemble Theatre.

Set years after Nottage's play, Sweat, we find five people working at Clydes, a busy truck stop somewhere near Reading, Pennsylvania. We begin with Clyde, who owns and operates this sandwich shop. She and Montrellus are discussing one of his delectable sandwiches. As Montrellus uses his silky smooth voice to describe it, Clyde presents a strong front, ultimately rejecting both him, the sandwich, and the emotions surrounding pride. No matter how much Montrellus tries to persuade Clyde to take pleasure in their food, her cruel nature against having feelings succeeds. This paradox sets the play in motion as we meet Letitia and Rafael, two line cooks (or as Rafael would say, "I'm a Sous Chef"), as they are navigating their fraught lives. Letitia is unable to care for her mentally unwell baby daughter, and Rafael is staving off addiction. Finally, Nottage's Jason, from her play Sweat, walks in, newly employed. Rafael, Letitia, and Clyde all give him a difficult time, while Montrellus tries to help Jason and him find meaning in life after prison. Throughout the piece, Clyde's cruelty becomes the catalyst for mental instability, ultimately culminating in conversations amongst her workers about the fraughtness of life.

The performances by the quintuplet of actors truly embody ensemble work. Timothy Eric as Montrellus is exceptional, and his appearances in the show, while brief, always provides a breath of fresh air for the shop. Eric's smooth nature as Monty soothes both characters and audience members and does a remarkable job of painting a beautiful portrait of both humanity and sandwiches. Krystle Liggins plays Letitia with all the fiery wit one would expect from the character. Liggins performs iconic lines from the show with enthusiasm but does so that audience members can easily feel her character is the heart of the show. Rafael, as played by Michael Leonel Sifuentes, is in top form. Sifuentes has always been an outstanding burgeoning young actor. However, he elevates his performance by not only relying on physical comedy but also on his acting prowess. When a heartbreaking moment happens, it emanates from him, and the comedic character drifts from happy to sympathetic. Finally, Wesley Whitson, who plays Jason, does so with so much heart and love it is impossible not to see any other actor in the role. While I have seen Whitson play previous roles that are usually ingenue in nature, Whitson surprised me. Whitson melts into the role and plays Jason with all the gruff and meanness but evolves into something more significant.

I am dedicating several sentences to the penultimate and title character of the piece, and that is to Michelle Elaine as Clyde. When I found out about the casting of Elaine as the character, I knew I was in for a treat. I was lucky enough to see the livestream of this production on Broadway in 2021 and was able to see Uzo Aduba in the title role. While I did enjoy Aduba's performance, Michelle Elaine's interpretation of the role is one for the books. Elaine plays Clyde with every comedic force one would expect from her. However, she heightens this performance with Clyde's inherent attitude of nastiness. One trembles in fear when Elaine walks out in some of the highest heels, not only because she is a presence but at her demeanor. I have always admired Elaine in my time here in Houston, and my fanaticism for her grows with every performance of hers. I plan to return to The Ensemble Theatre soon and see Elaine perform Clyde again, and it left me wanting another chaotic sandwich.

Design elements of the production also add to the production's ensemble work. This piece has what can be called "kitchen choreography," and the actors easily move around Joyce Milford's set. It's small, cramped, and dingy, but you can feel the actors find a home on stage. Costume Designer Krystal Uhem had their work cut out for them, as just dressing Clyde is a feat, however, her costumes add more elements of thought to the show. I encourage audience members to take stock of these visual treats from Milford and Uhem, as they provide more meaning than upon initial glance (Clyde's eccentric outfits and Letitia's black boots to begin with).

Clydes is riotous fun, and it really balances the tumultuous times that we call life and the small funny moments we have everyday. For a 90-minute good time, feel-good, and wondrous production, I encourage you to stop by the sandwich truck stop to feel good and be reminded of how great theater can be.


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From This Author - Armando Urdiales

Armando Urdiales (He/Him/His)”: A second year MS in Theatre Studies at the University of Houston, I have been obsessed with theater since I was a kid. My mothers lullabies were from Andrew Lloyd... (read more about this author)


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