With humor, honesty and compassion, playwright Lynn Nottage makes us care about marginalized groups of people.
Nottage, the only woman who has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, writes with sensitivity about such individuals, making us feel a connection with them and their plight.
In her Broadway-hit play “Clyde’s,” Nottage turns our attention to those formerly incarcerated. Through the play, we come to see them as worthy of redemption and second chances.
Zoetic Stage’s current production of “Clyde’s” is among the professional Miami company’s best work. In particular, Artistic Director Stuart Meltzer and company deftly convey each note of humor and pathos in Nottage’s multifaceted piece about a group of people who have done time.
Zoetic’s production runs through Sunday, Nov. 19 in the Adrienne Arsht Center’s intimate Carnival Studio Theater. The mounting features stellar work from a talented cast of actors that include Kristian Bikic, Randy Coleman, Sydney Presendieu, Gabriell Salgado, and Karen Stephens.
Meanwhile, backstage, the scenic designers are Natalie Taveras and Jodi Dellaventura, properties and costume design is by Natasha Hernandez, lighting design by Tony Galaska, and sound design by Matt Corey.
The people who toil at Clyde’s eponymous truck stop sandwich shop in Pennsylvania are at the center of “Clyde’s.” They work for the titular character who constantly does her best to remind them that this is their only shot at a free life. Clyde (Karen Stephens), herself a former inmate, may have “sold her soul to get this joint,” as grill guy Rafael notes. In addition to the Hispanic Rafael, the restaurant, located on a “nondescript” stretch of road in Berks County, employs three others who have done time.
Specifically, we meet Montrellous (Randy Coleman), a Black man who uses cooking as a means of meditation. He loves to make food and the others are in awe of how for him, preparing a sandwich is almost a spiritual act.
We also meet Rafael (Gabriell Salgado), a romantic type who loves food and life. He is full of charm and harbors romantic feelings for Letitia (Sydney Presendieu).
Speaking of her, she is trying to build up her life again. She was recently released from prison and is mother to a daughter with health issues.
A tight bond seems to exist between Montrellous, Rafael, and Letitia with Jason (Kristian Bikic) seemingly the outsider of the group. He is a white working-class individual who sports tattoos and served eight years in prison and may harbor racist thoughts. But even Jason seems capable of changing. Indeed, he begins as a threat to the group but grows into an individual who is open, vulnerable, and funny.
“Clyde’s” is No. 2 on the Top 10 list of most-produced plays of the 2023-24 season, according to American Theatre Magazine. With 14 productions, “Clyde’s” is second only to “What the Constitution Means to Me” by Heidi Schreck, which checks in with 16 productions.
“Clyde’s” is a layered piece with themes such as redemption, forgiveness, second chances, and vying for a piece of the American dream.
The workers’ quest to make the perfect sandwich might symbolize their reach for a higher place in life and more self-worth. Yet, Clyde, for whatever reason, seems content to keep the characters down. But they prove to be resilient, and that is one reason why we pull for them. They come to believe in their sense of dignity and self-worth and that they are just as deserving of a second shot at life as anybody else.
It might be tempting for a performer to portray the title character as solely evil, but Stephens does not fall into that trap. The woman might be hard on her employees, but she also reveals a human side to her. Stephens, wearing long earrings, portrays Clyde as a dominatrix at times, but also reveals a seductive, sensual side.
As Montrellous, Coleman lends the character a spiritual side and a peaceful aura, suggesting an individual who is almost like a monk while making a sandwich.
Making food seems to bring these characters joy, and the actors convey that sense through their portrayals.
The performers act on scenic designers Dellaventura and Taveras’ spacious, orderly, and detailed kitchen, lit realistically by Galaska’s design. The performers wear Hernandez’s character-appropriate costumes and benefit from Corey’s deft sound design.
Zoetic’s successful production of “Clyde’s” follows last year’s triumphant production of “Mlima’s Tale,” also by Nottage.
Zoetic Stage’s production of “Clyde’s” continues through Nov. 19 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Arsht, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. Miami. Performances are at 7:30 p.m., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $55 and $60. For more information, go to www.arshtcenter.org or call (305) 949-6722.