Review: Clyde’s (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), May 5 – Jun 10, 2023
Playwright: Lynn Nottage
Director: Darren Yap
Cast: Charles Allen, Gabriel Alvarado, Nancy Denis, Aaron Tsindos, Ebony Vagulans
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

In the run-down kitchen of a busy truck stop diner in Pennsylvania, five ex-felons navigate life and sandwich recipes, in search of purpose, hope and redemption. Lynn Notage’s 2021 play Clyde’s rummages through the discarded of American society, serving up some of the most beautiful and inspiring writing in recent years, to have been witnessed at the theatre. The comedic commotion surrounding business owner Clyde, a woman of the bitterest constitution, and her tortured employees, offers marvellous entertainment, along with some of the most profound philosophical observations, one could hope to glean from any work of art.

That poignancy is carefully uncovered by Darren Yap, whose attentive direction of the piece ensures that the countless meaningful morsels of Notage’s script, are given opportunity to resonate.  We may not always feel fully transported, to that precise location continents away where the action is taking place, but the human authenticity Yap is able to depict, is certainly convincing.

Set design by Simone Romaniuk cleverly manipulates the stage, so that the intensity of an uncomfortable workplace is clearly represented, whilst simultaneously providing ample performance space that allows for the cast’s unbridled physical expressions.  Romaniuk’s costumes help to tell a story of class and heritage, both themes fundamental to Clyde’s concerns. Lights by Morgan Moroney are memorable for manufacturing unexpected moments of humour, and for their subtle enhancements of some of the show’s more emotional sequences. Sound and music by Max Lambert and Roger Lock are minimally rendered, although it is noteworthy that multicultural influences are appropriately, and reassuringly, acknowledged.

Actor Nancy Denis brings unambiguous exuberance to the role of Clyde, along with excellent timing, but it is only when she lets the chilling darkness of her character to emerge, that we are able to see beyond the caricature. Charles Allen as Montrellous, is interminably sensitive and remarkably moving, impressive in his capacity to imbue astounding depth to the group’s wise elder. Gabriel Alvarado is a scintillating presence as Rafael, with a captivating vigour that reveals a thoroughness in his understanding of the personality and circumstances being portrayed. Likewise with Ebony Vagulans who plays Letitia, leaving us no room to question the challenges she experiences, in an accomplished performance that embraces the complicated nature of a person’s flaws and foibles. Aaron Tsindos may not always be believable as reformed fascist Jason, but his comedic talents are truly an unimpeachable joy.

There is no denying that those who have endured the worst, are also the ones who know the most, about the human condition. In Clyde’s there is no mistaking the injustices at play, in the inequitable and downright unfair ways we have to live our lives. Yet, we are able to access resilience, and through it, form narratives of hope, that can help us see trajectories of salvation which are absolutely necessary, to daily survival and sustenance.

It is true that so much of one’s circumstances are too hard for any single being to control, but a greater truth resides with the notion, that peace and happiness is often an internal function, that the stronger of us, will always be able to reach for, even when the world appears to be falling to pieces.