Theater Review: CLYDE’S (Moxie Theatre Company in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on February 10, 2024

in Theater-San Diego


Remember Linda Lavin’s old TV sit-com Alice? And her co-waitresses: the sassy Flo (“Kiss my grits!”) and the ditzy Vera at the truck stop diner? And the owner, cranky-but-loveable Mel, giving them hell through the kitchen passthrough as he cooked everything up? Well, flip that around so the setting is the kitchen with the boss waiting on tables, so she’s on the other side of the passthrough, and you’ve got the set-up for playwright Lynn Nottage’s touching comedy Clyde’s.

Tanya Alexander and DeAndre Simmons

Anything else different? Well, there’s the not-so-small detail that innocent Alice, Flo and Vera have been replaced in the kitchen with four ex-con felons. They are all working at Clyde’s solely because no one else will hire them. Oh, and exchange anything loveable about Mel with the absolutely intimidating, non-empathic, and manipulative Clyde (Tanya Alexander). She’s an ex-con as well, but the only one in the restaurant who has worked her way up the food chain, doing whatever it took. (“Check it out, folks!” she exclaims. “15 pounds of Chilean Sea Bass and I didn’t even have to fuck anyone to get it!”) Never mind that it’s spoiled; she got it cheap! This gal is one tough cookie that you’ll love to hate.

Deja Fields, Marcel Ferrin, DeAndre Simmons, Justin Lang

It’s an ensemble show with no actual primary protagonist. This could be problematic in some scripts, but Nottage does a great job of getting the audience rooting for all four in different ways. The play starts with deep-thinker Montrellous (DeAndre Simmons) — the only one who the bitter Clyde seems to respect even a little — trying to get Clyde to sample a new sandwich he created. Montrellous is the Julia Child of sandwiches, creating flavor combinations and arrangements that blow people away. Clyde is greatly tempted to eat the little delight but stops herself, solely because she knows how much satisfaction it would give him to see her enjoy it. Heaven forbid she should let one of the cooks gain even a bit of favor from her.

Marcel Ferrin, Tanya Alexander, Deja Fields

But she doesn’t get under Montrellous’s skin like she does the other three. Amiable, naïve Rafael (Marcel Ferrin), who quakes in Clyde’s presence, treats Montrellous like a guru: “He’s like Buddha, if he grew up in the ‘hood!” Letitia (Deja Fields), who straddles the line between brazen and self-deprecating, desperately wants to master the zen of sandwich-making as Montrellous has done, but her attempts are only fair-to-good because Montrellous can “taste the impatience” in her work. Through all of her struggles, though, she walks on water for Rafael, who gently courts her. The three cooks are tight, but there’s trouble in the kitchen when a new ex-con-turned-sandwich-maker, Jason (Justin Lang), is unexpectedly added to the staff. Jason’s facial gang tattoos put Letitia off immediately, creating tension in the former safe zone of the kitchen (safe, at least, while Clyde is out of the room). Meanwhile, Jason, not yet knowing how to kowtow to Clyde, is about to piss off the wrong lady. Rumor is she sold her soul to the Devil to get this restaurant.

Tanya Alexander, DeAndre Simmons and Justin Lang

Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, who always finds lovely subtleties and great pacing, has done it again. The challenge in this case is to constantly keep food-related work moving as Clyde demands lunch orders without the busyness of it undermining the kitchen drama. Ms. Sonnenberg gets it right; there’s enough activity to keep things real without undermining the storytelling. Anyone who has worked in food prep will recognize this well-designed set of stainless steel and take-out containers; Michael Wogulis’s work is joltingly good — you can practically feel the unseen dining room on the other side.

Justin Lang

As to how enjoyable the production is, let’s just say that toward the end of the 95-minute one-act, when it became clear that the final moments had arrived, you’re bummed the theatrical sandwich is about to end. Unlike Alice, there won’t be another episode next week to give us more time with these lovable misfits, but it sure was sweet sharing time with them at Moxie Theatre.

Now, off to make an amazing Montrellous-inspired sandwich. Where DID I put my truffle oil?

Deja Fields and Marcel Ferrin

{SIDE NOTE:  A hearty congratulations to Moxie Theatre for qualifying for a $150, 000 grant from the Conrad Prebys Foundation, allowing Moxie to expand their staff and offerings in the next few years!}

photos by Daren Scott

Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N
in San Diego
Thurs at 7:30, Fri-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on March 10, 2024
for tickets, call 858-598-7620 or visit Moxie Theatre

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