Non-Holiday Gifts, Maybe for Yourself

By Sarah Spitz

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Non-Holiday Gifts, Maybe for Yourself
Courtesy Center Theatre Group Clyde’s runs through December 18 at the Mark Taper Forum.
A play, an Academy Award press screening, and a film festival at MOMA are all good escapes from the holiday frenzy. What happens when a former prisoner tries to find a job? Mostly they’re shunted from one employer to another, being rejected at every turn. But what happens when a former prisoner opens a truck stop diner and only hires former prisoners? Great premise for a redemptive ending? Life doesn’t really work that way, though, does it. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make a comedy out of that situation. That is just what Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize drama winner, has created in Clyde’s, now onstage at the Mark Taper Forum. Nominated for five Tony Awards, and the single most-produced play in America this season, Clyde’s was originally titled Floyd’s, but in deference to the Floyd George murder, Nottage changed it. In this comic drama—ostensibly about second chances but a lot about sandwiches—you might expect sunshine and roses. And instead you get Clyde, who may just be the devil incarnate, judging from the actual flames that appear on stage with her. Great staging, by the way, a typical bare-bones industrial kitchen where four characters fantasize about the perfect sandwich, as the lighting shifts from fluorescent to rosy-glowing dreamy, with music that could accompany a meditation retreat. They let their imaginations run wild with combinations of ingredients, flavors, textures and surprises. Until Clyde dings the bell in the pass-through and calls out for grilled cheese on white bread. Clyde (Tamberla Perry) is one ice-cold mama, whose endless costume and wig changes emphasize her curvaceous body and fabulous face, while hiding her dark heart. She taunts and insults the employees, who know they have nowhere else to go. But there’s also something shady about the diner, never fully explained but hovering just below the surface. The cooks include mystical Montrellous (Kevin Kenerly), whose Buddha-like Zen-ness is the moral center of the play; single-mom Letitia (Nedra Snipes) who is inspired to dream; Latin lover Rafael (Reza Salazar, from the world premiere production and the Broadway cast) who considers other options; and late-comer, white-supremacy-tattooed Jason (Garrett Young), who just wants things to be quiet, no confrontations, please. The stories of how they came to be incarcerated are slowly revealed. Rumor has it that Montrellous went to prison out of principle. Montrellous is the peacemaker, even as he attempts to tempt Clyde with his sandwiches, to which she begins to succumb but ultimately refuses to bite. Grilled cheese and burgers are all she wants to know about. The play is non-stop witty repartee with sharp banter, some conflict, some romance, some idealistic moments of regret, but with recognition that the cooks’ situations are what they are. I won’t give away the ending but I will say that a night out at Clyde’s is a theater night well spent. It’s onstage at the Mark Taper Forum through December 18. Tickets: ’TIS THE OTHER SEASON International film contenders for the upcoming Academy Awards are holding press screenings around town. I just saw Austria’s official entry, Corsage, which translates as “corset,” and that’s what Empress Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps) forces herself into to maintain her wasp waist—18 inches at its widest—with tremendous pain. As the movie opens, she’s turning 40 and obsessed with her looks as apparently everyone else is. This isn’t a bio-pic (some facts have been changed) but rather a psychological portrait of a woman who was both ahead of her time and trapped in it. Known for her beauty, she was imprisoned by it, eating anorexically and exercising maniacally. She’d been shunted aside, considered merely a ceremonial figure. Which is a shame because she’s an intellectual with political smarts. She acts out her wild nature with horseback riding and wanderlust travels, but with her imperiousness, rumors of affairs and some of her personal quirks, including her scandalous cigarette habit, she is viewed with resentment. In its way, it’s a feminist take on the repression of women. Corsage won Krieps Best Performance award at Cannes Film Festival’s “Un Certain Regard,” and it’s an Indie Spirit Award nominee. Opens in Los Angeles on December 23. MoMA AT HAMMER There’s a terrific film festival underway in Westwood at the Hammer Museum, “The MoMA Contenders,” spotlighting influential and innovative films from the past 12 months. By the time you read this, just four of the ten films remain to be screened in the Billy Wilder Theater, with special introductions and post-screening conversations featuring filmmakers, cast and other guests. All screenings begin at 7:30 p.m. Find tickets and more info at: Monday, December 12. Sr., Robert Downey Jr.’s documentary about his filmmaker father, Robert Downey Sr., and a post-screening discussion with Chris Smith, Robert Downey Jr., and Susan Downey. Tuesday, December 13. Women Talking, Sarah Polley’s searing new drama, features special guest, Claire Foy. Wednesday, December 14. Bones and All, a lonely cannibal tale by Luca Guadagnino, screens on with star Taylor Russell. Thursday, December 15. The series ends with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, introduced by the director himself. Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

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December 9, 2022