Almost everyone loves a good sandwich. They are simple by definition, but come in endless sizes, shapes, and variations. Pretty much any ingredient can be incorporated into one, but not every combination works well. There is an inherent structure, but they can be as messy as one dares to dream.
In other words, they are a perfect vehicle to talk about life, loss and love. In Lynn Nottage’s play “Clyde’s”, the runs in the Mark Taper Forum Through December 18, the quest for the perfect sandwich is the thread running through a journey that pits formerly incarcerated kitchen workers at a humble sandwich shop in a darkly comical battle against the villain Clyde (played by Tamberla Perry), who destroys the loading leads.
The piece contains detailed – very detailed – and fantastical descriptions of various sandwiches, often spoken by characters like a recitative, lost in ideal flavor combinations: a tuna melt-in with chopped lemongrass and basil on roasted black rye; Maine lobster on a potato bun with truffle mayonnaise, caramelized fennel and a hint of dill; Sauteed skirt steak with peach chutney on a cheddar biscuit.
If reading these descriptions makes you salivate, that’s the point. These and others underscore the play’s plot, in which the kitchen workers struggle under the thumb of Clyde, the unforgiving (but very well-dressed) woman who makes their lives miserable. The sandwich reverie is a way for the workers to escape Clyde’s abuse, but also takes on a deeper meaning in terms of redemption and new beginnings.
Nottage, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, happens to enjoy a good sandwich, as you can imagine. “I like that it’s a common, ubiquitous food that, when mastered, can produce extraordinary culinary results,” says Nottage. “I like that it lends itself to invention.”
As a child, Nottage ate sandwiches prepared by her father, who was an avid devotee of the form. “My dad was an adventurous chef who always tried to cook something unusual,” says Nottage. And some of her father’s joys didn’t necessarily translate well to the school lunch box — like a wobbly hunk of head cheese.
“One of his favorites was liverwurst and pickles,” she says. Was that also Nottage’s favourite? “It wasn’t that at all,” she says, laughing.
And while it sometimes meant Nottage couldn’t trade sandwiches with the other kids at school, the most important thing was the care and attention. “I think his creativity and his relationship with food was all about expressing love,” she says.
“This man loved his sandwiches. He was so attentive to his practice making his sandwiches.”
One of the characters in “Clyde’s”, a man named Montrellous, is something of the wise sandwich sage of production: a kind teacher to the other chefs in the kitchen, creative and self-actualized in his technique and choice of ingredients. “Part of my father’s DNA is in Montrellou,” says Nottage.
Clyde’s, which would be the most-produced play of the 2022-2023 season and Nottage the most-produced playwright according to a poll by American Theater Magazine, requires a lot of food prep and editing from its actors. It’s a level of complexity that most games don’t have to deal with. (Chef from LA Notasha Butler is credited with making specialty sandwiches for production.)
Such a food-heavy show “adds a week of rehearsals,” says executive producer Kate Whorisky. Actors need to learn knife skills. Not only that, but the characters’ knife skills need to improve as the play progresses.
“You have to say that monologue and make sure the tomato is cut by that point,” she explains, and if something goes wrong — like a stray tomato — it can mess up the whole show.
Whoriskey, who once worked as a waiter, praised the sandwich’s simplicity, saying, “Michelin-starred restaurants often shut out a lot of people. Sandwiches are something that everyone has access to.”
She says one of her personal favorites was a soft shell crab sandwich with sriracha mayonnaise. For her part, Nottage says she loves a classic grilled cheese made in a cast-iron skillet. Which makes sense — a grilled cheese happens to be the first sandwich mentioned on the show.
Where: Center Theater Group Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., LA
When:8 p.m Tuesday to Friday, 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Saturday, 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Sunday. Ends December 18th. (Call for exceptions.)
Tickets: $35-$120 (subject to change)
The information: (213) 628-2772 orcentertheatregroup.org
Duration:1 hour 30 minutes without a break
COVID Protocol:Masks are strongly recommended.
https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-12-03/best-sandwiches-pulitzer-lynn-nottage-interview-clydes The best sandwiches in Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage’s ‘Clyde’s’ play