Karamu’s ‘Clyde’s’ is savory and fulfilling
What do you think makes a “perfect sandwich”? Is it the bread? The filling? The condiments? The garnish?...or is it the combination of like but different elements that somehow blend together in your mouth for an “Oh my goodness!” moment?
When I was growing up in Columbus, Ohio in the North Linden neighborhoods there was the old Golden Point that had been taken over by a family. I still remember the tastes of the subs that they made. It was the sandwich that I have never been able to find anywhere but there. Such is the thing of childhood memories.
What makes great theater? Is it the actors? The stage set? The props? The director? The costumes? The script?...or is it the combination of like but different elements that blend together in your mind following the performance for that “OH WOW!” moment?
Currently on stage at Karamu is Lynn Nottage’s “Clyde’s” a comic morality play about life beyond prison walls. Four ex-cons have ended up in the kitchen of a run down but popular (at least for the truckers) sandwich shop on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania.
There is Raphael (Jonathan Rodriguez) who brings a Latino flavor to not only his sandwich creations but with all of his personality traits. His crime was robbing a Wells Fargo Bank with a BB gun. He did it in order to buy a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for his girl friend. After having shot the security guard in the mouth he had to do the Heimlich in order to dislodge the BB from the choking man preventing him from escaping.
Letitia (Maxx) is a single mother (sort of) who stills relies on her pot smoking baby daddy to baby sit her little girl who suffers from spells and seizures. She had broken into a pharmacy looking for medication for her child but “got greedy” and took some “oxy and addy” that was found on her when she was caught.
Jason (Jaren Hodgson) is the newest member of the team who sports an array of NAZI tattoos on his face. He was once well to do with a great job at a manufacturing plant that went on strike and severely beat up a scab worker trying to cross the picket line.
Lastly, there is Montrellous (Prophet Seay) whose brilliant but naive younger brother got caught innocently carrying a duffel bag full of drugs. Montrellous took the rap allowing his brother to finish college and end up as a pediatric surgeon for Doctors Without Borders in Africa.
They are all under the hateful eye of Clyde, a larger than life woman who is an ex-con herself that claims that the last man who tried to hurt her “isn’t around to try again, I made damn sure of that!” Because of the circumstances of her workers, Clyde is able to heap abuse on “her set of morons” by belittling, physically abusing and sexually intimidating them with threats of not only firing them but calling their parole officer for a guaranteed trip back to prison.
The only respite from the constant barrage of hate from Clyde is when the workers attempt to invent a new sandwich. Montrellous teaches them the almost Zen like approach in the blending of new ideas, ingredients and breads that reflect their inner souls.
Here in the back kitchen at Clyde’s a sandwich is more than a sandwich. It is their chance to create a new life. The dialogue is dark with talk about prison, homelessness, poverty, lost opportunities, and depression but at the same time has comic moments sprinkled in like a fine spice to lighten the scene. The play runs a little over 90 minutes with no intermission and is directed by Treva Offutt.
If you are attending the play to learn new ideas on how to make a sandwich you may as well stay home. The action on stage scarcely resembles what goes on in a real diner kitchen. The actors “go through” the actions of sandwich making but if you watch close the mix of ingredients are pretty pedestrian. It is the action and dialogue that you should focus on.
As for the actors, they are brilliant. Prophet Seay as Montrellous sets the tone for the kitchen as he finds and teaches inner spiritual strength that applies to even the most mundane of tasks. Jonathan Rodriguez as Raphael brings passion to everything he does on stage from cooking to romancing. Maxx as Letitia gets so caught up in her role that her rapid fire dialogue is sometimes hard to understand but you get the gist of what she is trying to communicate. Jaren Hodgson as Jason brings rebellion to the mix being the new kid in the room. He defies Clyde in spite of the others warning him. The scene where he is overcome with guilt and remorse for his crimes is thoroughly touching. Dayshawnda Ash as Clyde tends to over dramatize her role a bit to the point of it being a caricature.
The set design by Richard H. Morris, Jr. is flawless. The amount of detail from the uncleanable floor to the grease absorbed walls is spot on (pun intended). All of the kitchen accouterments must have taken months of searching by Dred Geib to acquire. Melody Walker handles the costume design with aplomb. The lighting design by Colleen Albrecht is carefully calculated with emphasis when a Zen moments happen.
Like the perfect sandwich, all of the elements of this play must compliment each other in an either positive or negative manner. This play is a Ying/Yang collage of sight and sound. While not perfect, it is still a delicious theater treat for the masses. Be sure not to blink at the surprise ending and the “OH WOW!” moment.
The Karamu production of “Clyde’s” will be on stage in The Cleveland Foundation Jelliffe Theatre (located at 2355 East 89th Street, Cleveland, Ohio through October 15, 2023. For more information and tickets go to https://karamuhouse.org/ or call (216) 795-7077.