Comin’ in Hot at Clyde’s

The heat is cranked way up, and not just on the stove, in Lynn Nottage’s kitchen-set play. Clyde’s runs through June 30 at ArtsWest. 

Heading to Portland? Compare this staging with Portland Center Stage’s (also through 6/30) by seeing them both. Info here


Have you ever had a truly terrible boss? Not just a bad one, or an incompetent one, but one who can suck the air out of the room, keep everyone on their toes for all the wrong reasons, make you expend more energy on fear and dread than your actual job? 

That’s Clyde, the fiery sun to the orbit of Clyde’s — a truckstop diner-set 2021 play by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, directed here by Valerie Curtis-Newton in a Hansberry Project co-production at ArtsWest. 

This boss is quick to threaten your job and future on a whim. An unabashed sexual harasser, because you have to take it. Legendary Dominatrix on her own time; unmasked sadist on the clock. She likes to play with her toys before she ends them. 

Clyde is season-one Ava Coleman if she pulsed with venom rather than mere self-interest. She’s a devil with minimal disguise. 

And Tracy Michelle Hughes plays that devil masterfully. Best known for playing tough but even-keel characters — as she did in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning Sweat at ACT and in Dominique Morrisseau’s Skeleton Crew at ArtsWest — here Hughes is positively unhinged. Her Clyde stalks and roars. 


Jacob Alcazar, Reginald André Jackson, Deja Culver, and Joe Moore in ArtsWest and The Hansberry Project’s ‘Clyde’s’. Photo by John McLellan.


But what makes her tick? For a show bearing her name, Clyde’s gives very little attention to that question. 

Compared with Nottage’s other work, the psychology of Clyde’s, at least in the present production, shows up more in symbolic bursts, revelations tinged with magical realism, than it does through focused exchanges. Through clever lighting and sound design, this staging creates a strong sense of hell and heaven; brimstone and sky; the flames of Clyde’s and the weightless nirvana of the perfect sandwich realized. The latter is always more fleeting. After prison, is Clyde’s kitchen a purgatory? Or simply a hell after hell? 

Clyde, who’s done hard time herself, hires only fellow ex-cons; and perhaps that was once an empathetic gesture. But the clear reason now is control: she can treat them however she wants, with the constant threat, however credible, of sending them back inside. Her staff’s alternatives are few. Their hurdles are immediate and tangible — housing, childcare, money, security in its many forms — but those are rarely developed well enough to be a through-line. Instead, for now, their through-line is wound up in hers: they’re stuck, and stifled, in Clyde’s dictatorship. Maybe they can rid themselves of that problem some day. But what makes that day, that indignity, enough to be the last? And then what? 

For all its straightforward plot, Clyde’s is a tough one to pin down. There’s a lot of humor, but I’d be hard-pressed to call it a comedy. There’s some suspense, but the biggest loaded gun, metaphorically, gets left in the fridge (or, let’s hope, the trash bag). The larger-than-life Clyde is a thrill of a storm to watch in Hughes, but it does leave the others in a state of imbalance, not only in power (obviously) but as characters. Reginald André Jackson’s even-keeled Montrellous is her biggest counterweight, but it’s hardly a fair fight. 

And even though she’s sucked all the air out of the room, with Clyde we’re still left with questions. What drives her? Who’s really pulling her strings? And, most fundamentally, Is she redeemable? 

Maybe it’s an oblique way of leading us to another, more generalized, one: Are they? After aligning us with the staff of recent parolees against its namesake for the preceding 90 minutes, Clyde’s surely suggests the affirmative. 


‘Clyde’s’ performed by Jacob Alcazar, Deja Culver, Tracy Michelle Hughes, Reginald André Jackson, and Joe Moore. Design by Jennifer Zeyl (scenic); Rob Witmer and Maggie Carrido Adams (sound); Chih-Hung Shao (lighting); Robin Macartney (props); Ricky German (costumes); and Michael B. Maine (projections). 

Clyde’s runs through 6/30 at ArtsWest in West Seattle. Tickets ($48.50) here. Financial accessibility note: discounted tickets ($18.50) are available by typing “inclusion” into the code box at checkout. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gender-neutral and multi-stall; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.

Run time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission.

Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of