Lynn Nottage play ‘Clyde’s’ scores on the Mark Taper Forum

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” advises a favourite proverb of tough-love advocates. And in a universe with free will and infinite prospects, it’s most likely sound recommendation. Don’t sit round grousing about your state of affairs; discover one you want higher.

However what if there’s nowhere else to go? What if that inferno of a kitchen is your entire world?

That is the predicament of the kitchen workers at Clyde’s, the truck cease sandwich store setting for Lynn Nottage’s 2021 Tony-nominated, playful, provocative darkish comedy, “Clyde’s,” now on the Mark Taper Forum. The greasy spoon’s sandwiches are unexpectedly scrumptious, however as a office, it’s not wholesome; in actual fact its toxicity is operatic in scope.

Tamberla Perry performs the titular restaurant proprietor in playwright Lynn Nottage’s “Clyde’s.”

(Craig Schwartz)

The boss, Clyde (the galvanic Tamberla Perry), is a larger-than-life, terrifyingly glamorous villainess in an ever-changing carapace of Lycra and leather-based high fashion. She loves horrifying, belittling, sexually harassing and shaming her workers. Anybody who has ever needed to work for a charismatic bully will acknowledge the storm of terror, supplication and idolatry Clyde provokes each time she seems within the kitchen with a brand new stylish wig and gleaming stilettos.

So why not simply stop? One impediment is that each one these staff have lately been launched from jail, so nobody else will rent them. Clyde, who herself has served time, is the uncommon businesswoman keen to provide ex-cons a shot. She may very well be seen as a humanitarian, besides that in taking up parolees she basically makes herself their new warden, entitled to punish or pet them because the whim strikes her. They’ve escaped one jail for an additional.

The story takes place close to the identical blighted Rust Belt city — Studying, Pa. — the place Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Sweat” is about. In researching “Sweat,” through which a union-management standoff causes a close-knit group of steelworkers to fracture alongside racial strains, Nottage spent a number of years visiting Studying and interviewing its residents. “Clyde’s” additionally was impressed by a few of their tales, and the 2 performs even share a personality: Jason (performed right here by Garrett Younger), the well-meaning however insecure younger man who commits a brutal assault in “Sweat” after which, in jail, succumbs to white supremacist rhetoric.

However Jason is a fish out of water in “Clyde’s,” extra stooge than menace. When he reveals up contemporary out of jail for his first shift, his new co-workers aren’t happy to satisfy him. Letitia (or Tish, performed by the endearing Nedra Snipes), the Black single mom of a special-needs baby, and Rafael (the hammy however winsome Reza Salazar, who originated the function as a Latino recovering addict) not solely discover Jason’s gang tattoos offputting, but in addition are protecting of their turf and their hard-won experience.

And whereas Jason thinks he’s there to make sandwiches, Tish and Rafael have a far loftier perspective towards their jobs. They’ve fallen beneath the sway of veteran worker Montrellous (the serene Kevin Kenerly), who presents sandwich making as a holy artwork kind and himself as its excessive priest. The three of them playfully compete to provide you with the right recipe. Montrellous all the time wins with entries resembling “Maine lobster, potato roll gently toasted and buttered with roasted garlic, paprika and cracked pepper and truffle mayo, caramelized fennel and a sprinkle … of … dill.” Jason thinks they’re loopy — till he tastes certainly one of Montrellous’ grilled cheese masterpieces. Subsequent factor he is aware of, he’s fantasizing about taste pairings and garnishes.

None of this sits properly with Clyde, who has little interest in turning her restaurant right into a foodie vacation spot and whose actual enterprise could also be laundering cash for her mysterious offstage “investors.”

As this abstract could recommend, regardless of being drawn from the identical properly, “Sweat” and “Clyde’s” are very completely different in tone. Whereas “Sweat” is a heartbreaking social difficulty drama, ”Clyde’s” has the unthreatening zing of a sitcom. Like sitcom workers, the Clyde’s cooks complain about how busy they’re, and so they look busy, smacking cleavers by means of heads of lettuce, slapping turkey slices onto waxed paper, and lavishly squeezing sauces throughout them. However their efforts produce noticeably few sandwiches. For individuals who insist that “we don’t have time for socializing,” they do an terrible lot of it — rising as characters, falling out and in of affection, resisting and succumbing to temptation. So, is Nottage attempting to comply with within the footsteps of Tracy Letts, whose Broadway play “Superior Donuts,” roundly described as sitcommy, was really tailored right into a CBS sequence?

Though this manufacturing, which premiered on the Second Stage Theater in Chicago, has components of each “Waiting for Lefty” and the Seventies CBS sequence “Alice,” at coronary heart it’s an existential parable within the custom of “No Exit” (however extra upbeat, and with sandwiches). In Kate Whorisky’s vibrantly theatrical staging, Clyde’s seems to be like a grungy restaurant (the persuasive set is by Takeshi Kata) but it surely’s actually an allegorical house, a philosophical enviornment for the age-old wrestle between good and evil. Tish, Rafael and Jason are pilgrims on a quest for that means and sweetness in a craven world, pressured to decide on between self-preservation and self-expression.

Clyde insists that they churn out the lowest-quality sandwiches her patrons will tolerate; Montrellous conjures up them to chase an aesthetic ultimate with out concern for market enchantment. The battle between the magnitude of what’s at stake (hope, redemption, the the Aristocracy of the human spirit) and the mundanity of the medium (turkey, mayo) is the supply of the play’s tongue-in-cheek humor. The climactic showdown really entails pickle relish.

Nottage’s dialogue bristles with hints of the archetypes that she has woven into her unglamorous setting: “She’ll make you pay in blood,” Tish warns of Clyde. “She might actually be the devil,” Jason ventures. Rafael describes Clyde’s sinister traders as sharks from down South. “They are from the underworld,” he provides. “I looked into this one dude’s eyes, and it was like staring into the abyss.”

Montrellous, in distinction, is sort of comically saintly. When it’s his flip to reveal why he went to jail, his story is so noble that Jason cries out, “How the … are we supposed to live with ourselves? I feel inadequate in your presence.”

A wide shot of the "Clyde's" set shows a dingy commercial kitchen with employees spread under a canted ceiling.

The characters of “Clyde’s” have traded one kind of jail for an additional, a business kitchen the place they’re without delay trapped and pursuing desires.

(Craig Schwartz)

Whorisky and her designers have performed up these eschatological hints with daring surrealistic touches. Each time Montrellous launches into certainly one of his inspirational monologues, lighting designer Christopher Akerlind bathes him in a heat glow whereas Justin Ellington contributes a reverent soundtrack. Clyde’s outfits, designed with scrumptious panache by Jennifer Moeller, get an increasing number of devilish with every scene, till finally Clyde is sheathed in skin-tight vivid pink leather-based. At some moments, in case we didn’t get the references, the stage erupts in flames.

This daring mixture of dramatic precedents has quite a bit in widespread with Montrellous’s philosophy of sandwich making. “What I find is that you‘ve got to surprise yourself with an ingredient that shouldn’t work, something that pulls it all together,” he muses. “Think about the challenging flavor that’s going to defy expectation, and elevate your sandwich.” It’s apparent he’s speaking about greater than sandwiches. Come to think about it, writing a play is a bit like making ready a sandwich: selecting elements that enchantment to a broad vary of customers with out promoting your soul. Mixing in simply sufficient humor and optimism to offset the bitterness of your imaginative and prescient with out turning it too candy.

When Jason designs his first sandwich, Montrellous is essential: “You want it to do too much, and didn’t trust yourself with the ingredients. … Pull back. Overcomplication obscures the truth.” Some individuals would possibly react equally to “Clyde’s” — and that’s kind of the purpose. Even within the sweltering kitchen the place all of us need to dwell (as a result of there are not any different rooms in the home), we will discover alternatives to create one thing significant collectively. Or a minimum of give one another one thing to chew on.

‘Clyde’s’’

The place: Middle Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m.Tuesdays-Fridays, 2:30 and eight p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 18. (Name for exceptions.)

Tickets: $35-$120 (topic to vary)

Information: (213) 628-2772 or centertheatregroup.org

Operating time:  1 hour, half-hour, with no intermission

COVID protocol: Masks are strongly really useful.