PICK ASR! ~~ “Clyde’s” – City Lights Serves up Delicious Comedy/Drama

By Susan Dunn

Whatever you do, don’t come hungry to this play.

Your mental, visual, and even olfactory senses will be challenged from the opening scenes as new-hire Montrellous (subtly played by Fred Pitts) offers his chef’s token of competency to boss Clyde (smartly and adeptly delivered by Kimberly Ridgeway)–his first grilled cheese sandwich. In her cutting, tight-ass managerial style, Clyde turns the sandwich down and dumps his ex-con backstory, sweetly delivered by Montrellous, into her trivia box.

“… Clyde’s gives us characters unique…humane…worth caring about…”

Written by the prolific Lynn Nottage, Clyde’s is set in a truck stop’s back kitchen, where four ex-cons are lucky enough to work there laboring to produce sandwiches for truckers. Clyde has her own prison backstory, but we never hear it. She is all business in the here and now. Reprehensively, she takes advantage of newly released convicts with no normal life to return to and provides them with a small wage to sustain themselves. She’s been there, done that, and now makes it work for her own gains.

It takes the right touch to create the perfect sandwich, and in the “Clyde’s” restaurant kitchen these three have big dreams. From left: Letitia (Damaris Divito), Montrellous (Fred Pitts) and Rafael (Ricardo Cortés). Photo by Christian Pizzirani.

As Clyde and Montrellous exit, we meet Raphael, Letitia, and Jason, the rest of the line chefs. As they banter, they either assemble a sandwich or ruminate on the “ultimate sandwich,” their current inspiration and life goal…

“Maine lobster, potato roll gently toasted and buttered with roasted garlic, paprika, and cracked pepper with truffle mayo, caramelized fennel and a sprinkle of… of… dill.”

In a series of one-upmanship, each chef dreams up the most obscure ingredients. Raphael waxes poetic on his gustatory concoction of fabulous spices and add-ins which will prove irresistible and take you spiritually to a new level.

Rafael (Ricardo Cortés, right) and Jason (Nick Mandracchia) swoon after tasting a fine, fine sandwich. Photo by Christian Pizzirani.

Admirably acted by Ricardo Cortes, Raphael is a Latino recovering addict, looking to reach out into a new life off the streets. He uses body language and gestures like a new-found drug. Letitia (Damaris Divito, outstanding) is both foil and enticement to Raphael. While he can’t stop his body, she can’t stop her mouth. With a child disabled from her drug use during pregnancy, and an unreliable ex-husband, she is swamped with trying to be the wage-earner and mother, and has served time for stealing drugs from a pharmacy for her daughter.

Newcomer Jason, sporting facial and body gang tattoos, gets the putdown from the others for wearing his lifestyle on his person. He is finally accepted when he breaks down to share his pre-prison story of his uncontrollable rage, assault and beating which almost turns to murder. Movingly portrayed by Nick Mandracchia, he gains acceptance with his co-workers if not with the standoffish Clyde.

Rafael (Ricardo Cortés, right) has his eye on co-worker Letitia (Damaris Divito) in “Clyde’s.” Photo by Christian Pizzirani.

Clyde’s is about starting over when your odds for success in life are few and seem to be working against you. The ex-cons seek redemption for past misadventures and crimes, for lack of life vision and personal self-control. Playwright Nottage shows us life’s human underbelly, struggling to make it with so few advantages. Clyde’s gives us characters unique and humane and worth caring about.

This production is admirably directed by Aldo Billingslea to create a tight ensemble that both bonds and breaks against itself in scene after scene. And it sparkles with lighting and sound that flesh out the truck-stop world. Eat your sandwich first and then head on over to Clyde’s for this compelling tragicomic story that sadly reflects many aspects of our world.


ASR Senior Writer Susan Dunn arrived in California from New York in 1991, and has been on the executive boards of Hillbarn Theatre, Altarena Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse, Virago Theatre and Island City Opera, where she is a development director and stage manager. An enthusiastic advocate for new productions and local playwrights, she is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and a recipient of a 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. Contact: susanmdunn@yahoo.com

Written byLynn Nottage
Directed byAldo Billingslea
Producing Company
City Lights Theater Company
Production DatesThru June 9th, 2024
Production Address529 S. Second St., San Jose
(408) 295-4200
Tickets$28 – $67
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!
Other Voices ...
"With its tasty repartee and redemptive mouthfeel, "Clyde’s" may not be Nottage’s most profound play, but you see why.... like (a) grilled cheese, (it) lifts into the sublime...."
“Clyde’s” is a fugal symphony of repeated motifs: the ding of the bell; a sandwich tossed in the trash; Montrellous’ mystic insights; Clyde’s vitriolic bile. It’s a sharply defined structure. But Nottage breaks it up with real-world chaos. It never feels like artifice."
"...(the play) ... transmits joy and deeply felt emotion across an audience visibly thrilled to be in its presence."