City Theatre Serves a Vital Menu at ‘Clyde’s’

By Yvonne Hudson

Clyde’s is a familiar place to anyone who’s ever stopped on the road just to get a bite or take a break, that non-descript cafe that’s a truck stop and sandwich shop. If you are lucky, the diner has a basic menu that hits the spot before you hit the road. For anyone who’s worked in a kitchen and prep areas of a basic eatery, it’s the land of institutional-size condiments, Hobart slicers and dishwashers, and the inevitable walk-in cooler. Here workers do whatever it takes to feed the customers out front while the work culture is driven by the owner and/or boss, for better or worse.

This is the setting of Clyde’s, which opens the 48th Season at City Theatre with yet another Pittsburgh premiere. Anyone who loves terrific theatre needs to get to Clyde’s through October 16th, and you might even want to catch Clyde’s more than once–there’s so much to chew on.

Once more, Resident Scenic Designer Tony Ferrierri hits realism out of the park. Details of the set are accurate and practical, taking the audience into the inner sanctum of the kitchen.

The employees of Clyde’s indeed work for Clyde, an outrageous woman, a blunt and driven business owner. Each character in Lynn Nottages play shares a common bit of history–each has been incarcerated. The playwright’s research in Eastern Pennsylvania for her play Sweat likewise fuels the powerful messages of the back stories of the anonymous food prep workers on whom we rely. Nottage, whose writing has twice been honored with a Pulitzer Prize, serves up another complex tale. One that everyone truly should hear while also being exquisitely entertained.

Director Montenze Freeland’s cast of five is a tight and talented ensemble, navigating the nuance and layers of Nottage’s wonderful script. 

Sexy, sadistic, and downright mean, Latonia Phipps as Clyde rocks every aspect of this destined-to-be iconic role. Her every entrance in one of Karen Gilmer’s stunning costumes is a treat. She’s an ongoing revelation as the boss who lurks, listens, and disrupts, keeping her workers on edge and the reason for her devilish manner at first veiled. Lighting by Jason Lynch punctuates the hellish nature of Clyde’s kitchen to reinforce the range and fear simmering all around. 

Clyde’s employees have already beaten some odds by leaving prison and getting jobs. Comrades bent on not returning to jail, they focus on work inspired by the possible creation of the ultimate sandwich. Their mission is at once metaphorical and necessary. As they can’t always leave their baggage at the door, details about their past and present circumstances drip out. Even Clyde’s fear, wrought from her apparent indebtedness to perhaps the wrong kind of people, is unveiled after some delicious confrontational moments. 

But Clyde won’t validate the creativity of her staff by taking even one bite of their artful sandwiches in their presence. It feels pretty sacrilegious in a town raised on the famous Primanti’s sandwich. One that became a national attraction featured in National Geographic (fries all) and even duplicated (miserably, we are sure) in other environs. Even if one doesn’t partake, one must respect its intent and success, right? 

The employees are portrayed by a stellar team who fills orders while managing the unknown. During the 100-minute performance, sound design by Twi McCallum features tracks during which the cast shows off some impressive and delightful moves.

Montrellous, whose life and cooking experience set him up as a father figure and guru. Khalil Kain’s portrayal of the character gently shares learned wisdom telling his co-workers to “leave the pain in the pan.” It’s profound guidance for all. Nottage reminds us that what happens in jail can stay there, and despite their past, everyone deserves a second chance. Kain’s calming and steady attitude is a gift amid lives that might again unravel at any moment, jeopardizing their vital reconstructing work. 

As Letitia, Saige Smith shows a heart-rending range of life experiences. A young mother, Letitia has more than herself at stake. Saige is an actor we see blossoming in her roles around town, and Clyde’s is a perfect place for her to shine.

The always fascinating Jereme Rodrigquez is Rafael, sous chef, and another artistic sandwich maker. His moves and agility captivate while his Rafael is likewise searching for truth and love. 

Patrick Cannon, as Jason is the newcomer, oriented in no uncertain terms by the team, finds his way tentatively at first. As Cannon reveals Jason’s journey, he artfully draws his character with thoughtful nuance that enhances empathy. Cannon, who is always a joy to watch, learns the rules about condiments and discovers his signature garnish sans relish while relishing the placement of his last culinary accent. 

The City production team is supported by dramaturge Richard McBride and Patti Kelly, the production company’s stage manager.

Clyde’s runs through Sunday, October 16th, and features Covid-safety awareness that includes two more performances when the entire audience will be masked on Thurs., October 6th at 8 pm and Sun., October 9th at 2 pm. Visit the City Theatre website for many special conversations and other options, including the program book for Clyde’s.

This review is based on the Tuesday. September 27th preview performance of Clyde’s. The script does contain strong language and discussions of violence and drug use. It is appropriate for audiences aged teens and up. 

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  1. onStage PittsburghConnecting Theater Goers and Theater Makers in the Greater Pittsburgh AreaWhat’s On Stage Pittsburgh for the week of October 3, 2022 to the end of November

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