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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

September 14, 2023 Issue
PART 3 (September 10, 2023)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


Clyde's at PlayMakers Rep Puts Its Audience in
the Shoes of the Formerly Incarcerated

PlayMakers Rep will stage Lynn Nottage's Clyde's, directed by Melissa Maxwell and starring Tia James, on Sept. 6-24
in the UNC-Chapel Hill's Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H Gillings Center for Dramatic Art (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Repertory Company's performance of Clyde's by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage puts its audience in the shoes of previously incarcerated individuals. The first show of PlayMakers Rep's 2023-24 season, Clyde's is the regional premiere of the 2021 Broadway and 2023 West End Play by Nottage, whom PlayMakers' producing artistic director Vivienne Benesh has named "one of the great American playwrights of this generation."

Clyde's, directed by new-play-development specialist Melissa Maxwell in her PlayMakers Rep debut, features formerly incarcerated characters who are all lucky to have found work in a greasy-spoon diner owned by a passionately cynical, emotionally abusive, attractive black woman who was once incarcerated herself. Clyde recognizes the captive situation in which she holds over her employees, who nobody else will hire, and uses it to berate, belittle, and even assault them as she milks them of every ounce of productive labor they can provide. Tia James plays Clyde with the exuberantly haughty confidence of a woman who's been there before, and she delivers her cutting one-liners with cutting-edge humor.

The play turns the audience into flies on the wall, as four previously incarcerated employees come in and out of the diner for work. Montrellous is an older, black, Buddha-like culinary guru who has been with the diner since its start. Played by Samuel Ray Gates with humble wisdom and patience, this character is the kind of elder guide that we all need in our lives.

Montrellous is practically worshipped by the other members of the staff, especially blundering first-time bank-robber Rafael who, having served his time, now aspires to be a genius sandwich maker like his role model. Xavier Reyes plays Rafael with endearingly humorous animation, forwardness, and charisma -- deliciously reminiscent of Josh Segara's role as Lance in HBO Max's series The Other Two.

Adam Valentine successfully walks the line as Jason, a used-to-be white supremacist whose inability to escape from the past is literally tattooed all over his face. Valentine's character's bottled-up anger is as palpable as his desperate need for redemption.

PlayMakers Repertory Company's Sept. 6-24 production of Clyde's, written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Melissa
Maxwell, stars (from left) Samuel Ray Gates, Tia James, Xavier Reyes, Saleemah Sharpe, and Adam Valentine

And Saleemah Sharpe plays Letitia, a young single mother who is barely making ends meet for her special-needs child and herself, with veiled innocence and entertainingly pointed immaturity. Sharpe takes full advantage of the laughability of Letitia's candor.

Scenic designer Riw Rakkulchon's set is spacious, with a table and cooking station for each employee and an audience overview akin to that of the Beat Bobby Flay series on The Food Network.

Lighting designer Cheyenne Sykes and sound designer Scott O'Brien -- who also provides original music -- have ensured that visibility and acoustics are not a problem from any seat in the UNC-Chapel Hill's Paul Green Theatre at any point in the production.

The riding momentum behind PlayMakers' production of this iconic play is toward social consciousness and literacy when it comes to addressing the denigrating, disparaging, and (seemingly) hopeless experiences that previously incarcerated people face every day. We nod our heads empathetically when the subject comes up in conversation, but how many of us with no incarceration experience ever put ourselves in their shoes? This is desperately needed, and seeing Clyde's is a good start.

Though the play relies almost solely on dialogue, it progresses surprisingly quickly, and not just because there is no intermission. It's an experience to be shared with family and friends who are open to acknowledging tough sociological topics. By revealing a slice in the life of not one but five previously and disparately incarcerated individuals, Clyde's takes its audience to a place of understanding that is otherwise improbable, if not impossible. Theatergoers should plan to go for a drink, an ice-cream, or just a night walk afterwards, so that they can fully contemplate and/or discuss their thoughts after the play.

PlayMakers Repertory Company's cast for Lynn Nottage's Clyde's, directed by Melissa Maxwell, includes (from left)
Tia James, Xavier Reyes, Adam Valentine, Saleemah Sharpe, and Samuel Ray Gates (photo by HuthPhoto)

Lynn Nottage's CLYDE'S (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12-15, 17, and 19-24, plus 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17th), directed by Melissa Maxwell and starring (in alphabetical order) Samuel Ray Gates as Montrellous, Tia James as Clyde, Xavier Reyes as Rafael, Saleemah Sharpe as Letitia, and Adam Valentine as Jason (PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H Gillings Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill). TRAILER: PRC NEWS RELEASE: PRESENTER:,,,, and 2023-24 SEASON: PRC BLOG: VENUE: and DIRECTIONS/PARKING: CAROLINA TOGETHER COVID-19 PAGE: CLYDE'S (2021 Broadway and 2023 West End Play):,, and LYNN NOTTAGE (Pulitzer Prize for Drama-winning Brooklyn, NC-born playwright and professor, 1964-present):,,,,, and NOTE 1: PlayMakers Rep warns that this show contains "Smoke, haze, cigarette use, strong language, and stage violence." NOTE 2: The 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17th, Share-the-Show performance will feature Open Captioning and a post-show discussion about rehabilitation after incarceration, with the cast, crew members, and community members. NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe and American-sign-language interpret the show's 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19th, performance. TICKETS: $20 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. DIRECTIONS/PARKING: COVID REQUIREMENTS: INFORMATION: 919-962-7529 or PLEASE DONATE TO: PlayMakers Repertory Company.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A Durham, NC resident for 20 years, Melissa Rooney is a scientific editor, freelance writer, and author of several science-based children's picture books. She has published children's stories and verse in Highlights Children's Magazine and Bay Leaves. Rooney earned undergraduate degrees in English and Chemistry from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA; and she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1998 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Her stories Eddie the Electron and The Fate of the Frog form the basis of two workshops offered through the Durham Arts Council's Culture and Arts in the Public Schools (CAPS) program, through which Rooney teaches elementary- and middle-school students about electrons and atoms or sustainability and rhyme, respectively. When she isn't writing, editing, reading, teaching, or experiencing theater, Rooney volunteers as a Soil and Water Conservationist for the nonprofit Urban Sustainability Solutions. Click here to read Melissa Rooney's reviews for Triangle Review.


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