Karen Stephens jokingly says that portraying the titular character in Lynn Nottage’s hit play, “Clyde’s,” allows her to display her dark side. It’s one “that nobody ever gets to see,” according to the South Florida-based actor who has multiple awards under her belt for her performances.
But people will be able to witness Stephens’ dark side starting in previews Thursday, Nov. 2, opening on Friday, Nov. 3, and continuing through Sunday, Nov. 19. That is when Miami’s Zoetic Stage Company will present “Clyde’s” to open its 2023-24 season. The production will mark the play’s South Florida premiere.
The 100-minute production will be performed in the Adrienne Arsht Center’s intimate Carnival Studio Theater.
Stephens leads an all-local cast of Zoetic Stage veterans that include Gabriell Salgado, Sydney Presendieu, Kristian Bikic, and Randy Coleman in his Zoetic debut.
Meanwhile, backstage, the scenic designers are Natalie Taveras and Jodi Dellaventura, properties and costume design is by Natasha Hernandez, lighting design by Tony Galaska, and sound design by Matt Corey.
Zoetic Stage Artistic Director Stuart Meltzer helms the production.
“Lynn Nottage wrote a truly funny, insightful, and stunning play that I know audiences will be talking about for a while. There is little wonder why ‘Clyde’s’ is one of the most sought-after and produced plays in the country.”
Specifically, the play is No. 2 on the Top 10 list of most-produced plays of the 2023-24 season, according to American Theatre Magazine with 14 productions, “Clyde’s” is second only to “What the Constitution Means to Me” by Heidi Schreck, which checks in with 16 productions.
Meanwhile, Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was the most-produced playwright of the 2022-23 season. Nottage remains the only woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. In particular, Nottage won the coveted award for her plays in 2009 for “Ruined” and in 2017 for “Sweat.”
In “Clyde’s,” a truck-stop sandwich shop offers its formerly incarcerated kitchen staff a shot at redemption. Even as the shop’s callous owner tries to keep them down, the staff members learn to reclaim their lives, find purpose, and become inspired to dream by their shared quest to create the perfect sandwich.
“Clyde’s” is the second Nottage play to be produced by Zoetic Stage, following last October’s successful production of “Mlima’s Tale.”
Stephens says that the formerly incarcerated titular character “exploits the fact that (the other characters) are unemployable and are stuck tolerating her abuse of them.”
“Clyde has her own reasons for what she does,” says Stephen. “Lynn (Nottage) does an excellent job of weaving symbolism with reality.”
Stephens says that society in general doesn’t treat formerly incarcerated individuals well.
“I think Clyde’s is symbolic of society at large in how she treats them,” she adds. Regarding the play’s characters, Stephens says, “They’re trying for a better life, they’re reaching for higher goals eventually, but when we first meet them, they believe that they are undeserving because that’s what they’ve been taught and that’s what they’ve been shown. The workers’ quest to make the perfect sandwich symbolizes their reach for a higher place in life and more self-worth.”
On the other hand, Clyde “represents the status quo,” says Stephens. She adds that in the play, one of the characters tells another that Clyde made a deal with the devil.
“Clyde herself says that she has made sacrifices to keep her business open and not be pulled back into the gutter,” says Stephens.
She says audiences should expect to witness a seedy kitchen that employs characters who are humorous and worthy of empathy by the end of the play.
“It’s funny, they’ll get some good laughs, they’ll see some great performances, (and) they’ll see some wonderful technical elements,” Stephens says, adding the set is “amazing.” Also, audiences will “get to see Meltzer and Zoetic Stage “producer another piece of theater that is transformative.”
Stephens says that each audience member will take something away from the production based on their own life experiences.
“I would think that the play wants us to look at these people as human beings who are striving to survive and having to compromise their dignity in order to do so,” says Stephens. “That’s indicative of the lives of so many people in our society, so maybe we (will) leave with a little bit more compassion and empathy.”
Nottage’s writing is “very real (and) visceral,” says Stephens. “There’s no word on the page that’s put there by accident, so we (as actors) have to figure out who these characters are, where they come from, what they want, and how they go about getting it. A lot of that is reading between the lines, dealing with subtext and all the things that come with dissecting a script.”
Stephens, who has been a professional actor for a “few decades,” is performing in a Nottage play for the first time. In addition, Stephens directed “Sweat” as a staged reading in 2021 for Florida Atlantic University’s summer play reading series.
Meanwhile, Zoetic’s production of “Clyde’s” will also mark Coleman’s first time performing in a Nottage play. Coleman will portray Montrellous, one of the workers under Clyde. Coleman described his character as a “former street dude” whose mother died when he was 12, and whose alcoholic father left them.
“He was basically left to raise his younger brother,” Coleman says about Montrellous.
To Coleman, “Clyde’s” is saying that “there is hope no matter what one experiences in life.”
“No matter what the obstacle is you always have a second chance and there’s always hope (that) you can recover from the mistakes that you’ve made.”
Coleman says audiences should expect to laugh and cry. The play “is a roller coaster with a lot of up and down moments.”
Coleman adds that the play “is very relatable and it’s entertaining at the same time.” In addition, “Clyde’s” is a hope-filled play, he concludes.
He has a personal connection that he brings to the role, he confides: two of his uncles have been incarcerated. In fact, one of them is in prison for life for murder, while another “has been in and out” of prison, he reveals.
Coleman says he has witnessed his uncle trying to adjust to society and regular life after his release from prison for petty crimes. Coleman adds that observing his uncle has helped him prepare to appear in “Clyde’s.”
“I love Lynn Nottage,” says Coleman, who has been acting professionally for a year. “A lot of her stories are relatable. Whether it’s being incarcerated, having an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend, or dealing with (someone killing) one’s dreams and aspirations, stuff like that is relatable, we all know someone like that.”
As is the case with Coleman, Stephens knows people who have been incarcerated. In particular, she worked with teenage girls in “lock up” some years ago. She adds that she knows where some of those individuals come from because she herself hails from a poor, inner-city neighborhood.
While Stephens says that she jokingly tells people that Clyde will bring out her dark side, “there’s some truth to that. I think we all have a dark side.”
On the surface, the titular character is a villainess, but just like everyone else, she has motivations for her actions, Stephens says.
She wants to assure potential audience members that “Clyde’s,” while a dark show, isn’t all “doom and gloom.”
Actually, “Clyde does funny things and says funny things," says Stephens.
- Zoetic Stage’s production of Lynn Nottage’s “Clyde’s” previews on Thursday, opens Friday, and runs through Nov. 19.
- Tickets are $55 and $60, and available for purchase at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s box office, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. in downtown Miami.
- You can also buy tickets online and learn more information at arshtcenter.org. Audiences are invited to sample some of the sandwiches featured in the show on Friday for an opening night celebration.
- Local food truck Ms. Cheezious will serve up a customized menu on the Thompson Plaza for the Arts beginning at 6 p.m., before the 7:30 p.m. performance.
A post-show discussion with Ladies Empowerment & Action Program (LEAP) will follow the 2:30 p.m. performance on Sunday, Nov. 12. LEAP is a Miami-based nonprofit that gives incarcerated women a way to transcend their past by teaching essential life and employment skills, along with addiction and trauma classes.