Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Lost Broadway Review: Uzo Adubo Has a Devilishly Good Time in “Clyde’s”

Clyde's (c) Joan Marcus

Note: For the next few weeks leading up to the Tony Awards on Sunday, June 12, I will catch up with some of the Broadway nominees that I didn’t write a review for, culminating with my Tony Award predictions. 

Theater Review: Clyde’s 
On Broadway (closed) 

Best Play by Lynn Nottage 
Best Featured Actress: Uzo Aduba 
Best Featured Actress: Kara Young 
Best Featured Actor: Ron Cephas Jones 
Best Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller 

Premise: Clyde’s is a greasy spoon kind of diner in Redding, PA, at the crossroads of nowhere and “it’s the only thing open.” Clyde (Udo Aduba), the owner and namesake, is known for giving ex-cons just released from prison a job when no other business would. You would think this is because Clyde is also an ex-con, but as the play clearly shows, she does it because she rules with an iron fist and she knows that for most of the workers who end up in her kitchen, this is their last chance, so they have to endure the abuse. The newly released Jason (understudy Stephen Michael Spencer at my performance) is the newest hire who doesn’t seem to fit into the tightly knit cooking crew that includes Letitia (the always fabulous Kara Young, one of this year’s winners of the Theatre World Awards for Outstanding Broadway Debut) and Rafael (Reza Salazar). The kitchen is overseen by Montrellous (Ron Cephas Jones), a sandwich-making Sensei who wants to make Clyde’s into a destination restaurant and not just a place for truckers. This sets up a showdown between Montrellous and the kitchen crew vs. “just the bottom line” Clyde. 

My Take: Even Eugene O’Neill wrote “Ah, Wilderness.” Lynn Nottage is one of our best playwrights. She has already won two Pulitzer Prizes (for “Ruined” and “Sweat”) and she provided the most moving off-Broadway experience I’ve had in recent memory with her play, “Mlima’s Tale,” which was about, of all things, an elephant’s tusk. “Clyde’s” does have some underlying social themes of the prison system and the plight of the poor, but essentially it’s a laugh out loud comedy in which everyone hates Clyde – and needs her–which she exploits. Of course Clyde has problems of her own, including outstanding debts to creditors breathing down her neck, but mostly she’s the symbol of evil as both the target of the kitchen staff’s ire and fear. I can see a production where Clyde is played more realistically than Aduba’s almost cartoonish approach, although it wouldn’t be as fun, and as the last image of the play suggests, Aduba has been playing Clyde exactly the way Nottage envisioned her. The rest of the cast is fine, with Cephas-Jones (Emmy-winner for “This is Us”) being the standout, but their rather predictable storyline feels like Nottage just biding her time for Clyde’s next entrance. 

Clyde's (c) Joan Marcus

VIP: Uzo Aduba. The actress most known for her role in “Orange Is the New Black” gives a no-holds barred, over the top, physically exhausting performance that you have to wonder: Is this really the same woman who won an Emmy playing Shirley Chishohm in “Mrs. America”? At the performance I saw, Aduba accidently dropped a sandwich that’s very important to the plot. She looked at the giggling audience like Clyde would look at her employees to tell us, “That didn’t happen, and this sandwich is still edible. Got it?” She got applause as she exited the scene. Aduba had us in the palm of her devilish hand and we ate up every tantrum (in every too, too skin-tight outfit by Tony nominee Jennifer Moeller) she dished out.

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