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'Experience some living': PlayMakers' new production explores self-growth and sandwiches

Photo Courtesy of PlayMakers Repertory Company.

In bold, neon pink letters against the dim, blue stage lights, a sign reads “Clyde’s” — a reference to both the titular diner on stage and the title of the PlayMakers Repertory Company’s current show. 

Rap music thunders through the speakers, then stops as the stage lights turn on. Two characters have appeared. The woman — Clyde, the restaurant’s owner — takes out a cigarette and lights it. The man, Montrellous, picks up a plate in front of him. On it is a sandwich, and he offers it to Clyde.

But she refuses to eat it. She storms out, and the play begins. 

“Clyde’s” opened on Sept. 6 and runs through Sept. 24 in the Paul Green Theatre. It is the PlayMakers’ first show in its 2023-24 season. 

The play's 100 minutes are filled with an array of comedic moments, including Clyde’s dominating personality and touching displays of emotion as characters try to understand one another and their place in society after being incarcerated.

“Clyde’s” is a one-act show by playwright Lynn Nottage about workers at a truck stop sandwich shop, all formerly incarcerated and trying to re-integrate back into society. 

Melissa Maxwell, the show's director, said her approach to directing a show involves understanding the deeper human complexities that the show encapsulates.  

The diner is designed to be a liminal space — that is, it’s a place of transition for the characters, designed to elevate them to some other place. The show is as much about the characters’ interactions with one another as it is about their individual circumstances and the actions they need to take to grow, she said. 

“They are in a liminal space until they can change their mindset,” Maxwell said. “And when they change their mindset, they free themselves.”

Maxwell said “Clyde’s” is an ensemble piece, and while the show is named after the owner, it is less about Clyde and more about her influence on the characters.

Sandwich-making is one of the tools characters use to better themselves, she said. 

Throughout the show, characters Jason, Rafael and Letitia all try to make sandwiches to impress Montrellous, a sandwich expert and another of Clyde's employees. But Montrellous is trying to teach them how to make a sandwich that is true to who they are. 

“He can teach them how to make a sandwich, he can do that,” she said. “But whether or not it will be elevated beyond just being a sandwich is up to them.”

Adam Valentine portrays Jason, and he said most media and television depict the experience of people before imprisonment, or during, and there is not enough about the rehabilitation process. 

“I think that our country needs to have a real conversation about how we are enforcing our laws, and then rehabilitating the people coming out of the criminal institutions,” he said. “I think 'Clyde’s' offers an interesting lens into that world.”

Valentine said Clyde’s sandwich shop is a place that allows the characters to experiment with self-expression and reintegration into society. 

“I think there’s something poignant about finding and reclaiming your agency, even in the mundane and possibly everyday circumstances that we don’t consider to be extraordinary,” he said. “So, if we can find peace and community in the smaller hubs of our society, then we can actually affect things more intentionally.”

Sandwiches are a form of self-expression, he said, and they are a key part of how the characters in “Clyde’s” improve themselves.

Saleemah Sharpe portrays Letitia, and she said the set is immersive in a way that pulls audiences into the story. 

“And that’s what it feels like on stage, that we are living in these characters’ lives, this specific time in their lives, every night that we perform,” she said. “And I think that’s important, when you can bring life onto the stage and not just be like, ‘Oh, we’re going to see your show,’ like, no, we’re going to experience some living.”

Tickets for “Clyde’s” start at $20 for general audiences, but UNC students can purchase them for $10 using their OneCard. They can be purchased online or at the door.

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