That is the quest underway in this very quirky play. Entitled Clyde‘s, it is by Lynn Nottage, who has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. Clyde’s opened on Broadway in 2021, but lasted only 2 months. Despite this, it was the most-produced play of the 2022-23 season on theatre in the United States. This 2024 production is at the Ground Floor Theatre in Austin.

The sublimity of sandwiches is the pretext for the deeper meaning of the play: the redemption of humans who have been incarcerated. What we have here are three guys and one woman who are working in a greasy-spoon diner. They have all previously been locked up for various infractions of the law, so they are well aware how to handle whatever prison guards might throw their way.

They find themselves in this diner, lorded over by a dominatrix named Clyde, but seemingly unable to handle the sh*t she dumps on them nearly constantly throughout the play. “Don’t disappointment me by having aspirations,” she warns them! While the threat of losing their jobs is certainly before their eyes every moment (since Clyde is actually in their face much of the time, I mean quite literally before their eyes), their reaction to verbal abuse seems more like what an ordinary person would exhibit. This is no fault of the actors, who all deliver an intense performance. Of course, equanimity in the face of abuse would rob the play of its frisson, so we must chalk it up to dramatic license.

How did these four people move from their original lives, to prison, and ultimately to a diner? How they got to prison is the key to their current lives, and just like a syncope elision in speech, there is a loss of sound from the interior of their lives. How they eventually fill in that soundscape by relating what happened is really the driver of the play. It turns out that all the sound-and-fury of Clyde (which is delivered with a fever pitch and extraordinary acting skill by Yunina Barbour-Payne) is actually their path to redemption.

In conclusion, I will note (pun intended) that the maestro-like description of fantastic sandwiches by Zell Miller III is a sight to behold. The philosopher Robert Clewis writes that the sublime is a kind of awe: namely, aesthetic awe. The character Montrelous (played by Miller) raises the creation of a sandwich to this very height of the sublime, and it’s fun to see the other three kitchen workers get attuned to this vibe. I’m sure the Earl of Sandwich would be pleased. Quite delightful.

At the May 24 show, there will be a talkback moderated by the Austin Justice Coalition. The play runs thru June 1. Directed by Lacey Cannon Gonzales & Carl Gonzales. Kudos to Maggie Armendariz for a very fine scenic design, and to Jana Zek for a bodacious costume design: when you see what Barbour-Payne wears, you will agree with me!

The Cast

Yunina Barbour-Payne———-Clyde​ (Photo centre)

Zell Miller III———————Montrelous (left front)

Michael Galvan——————-Rafael (right back)

Vivian Noble———————–Letitia (right front)

Devin Finn————————–Jason (left back)

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By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.