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The best sandwiches in Pulitzer-winner Lynn Nottage’s ‘Clyde’ play

A good sandwich is a favorite of almost everyone. Although they are very simple by definition, they can be made in many different sizes, shapes, and varieties. You can combine almost any ingredient into one, but not all combinations work well. Although there is an inherent structure to them, they can be as chaotic and chaotic as one wishes.

They can be used to talk about loss, love, and life. In Lynn Nottage’s play “Clyde’s,”Which runs at the Mark Taper ForumThrough Dec. 18, the search for the perfect sandwich is the main focus of a journey that pits former prisoners at a small sandwich shop against the evil Clyde (played in dark comedy by Tamberla Perry), who runs it.

The play features detailed — highly detailed — and fantastical descriptions of different sandwiches, often spoken by characters like a recitative, lost in ideal flavor combinations: A tuna melt with chopped lemongrass and basil on toasted black rye; Maine lobster on a potato roll with truffle mayo, caramelized fennel and a touch of dill; sauteed skirt steak with peach chutney on a cheddar biscuit.

If you’re salivating while reading these descriptions, that’s the point. These and other descriptions are part of the play’s action, in which the kitchen workers must struggle under the control of Clyde, a unforgiving, but well-dressed, woman who makes their lives miserable. The sandwich reveries are a way for the workers to escape Clyde’s abuse but also take on a deeper significance about redemption and starting over.

Tamberla Perry, left, as the vicious Clyde and Garrett Young in the West Coast premiere of “Clyde’s” at the Mark Taper Forum.

(Craig Schwartz / Center Theater Group)

As you might guess, Nottage, the Pulitzer-winning playwright and two-time Pulitzer-winning playwright enjoys a good sandwich. “I like that it’s an ordinary, ubiquitous food that when mastered could have extraordinary culinary outcomes,” Nottage says. “I like that it lends itself to invention.”

Nottage ate sandwiches made by her father as a child. He was a passionate fan of the sandwich. “My father, being the kind of adventurous cook that he was, always endeavored to make something slightly unusual,” Nottage says. And some of her father’s joys did not necessarily translate well to the school lunchbox — like a jiggly hunk of head cheese.

“One of his favorites was, like, liverwurst and pickles,” she says. Was that also Nottage’s favorite? “It absolutely was not,” she says, laughing.

And even though it sometimes meant Nottage couldn’t trade sandwiches with the other kids at school, the care and attention was what was important. “I think his creativity and relation to food was very much about expressing love,” she says.

“This man loved his sandwiches. He was so mindful of his practice making his sandwiches.”

Lynn Nottage, author of "Clyde's" poses for a portrait at the Mark Taper Forum on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA

Lynn Nottage, playwright, at the Mark Taper Forum Nov. 22.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

One of the characters in “Clyde’s,” a man named Montrellous, is something of the wise sandwich sage of the production: A kind teacher to the other cooks in the kitchen, creative and self-realized in his technique and ingredient selection. “There’s some of my father’s DNA in Montrellous,” says Nottage.

“Clyde’s,” which an American Theater magazine survey saidIt would be the most popular play of the 2022-2023 seasons and Nottage would be the most prolific playwright. It’s a layer of complexity most plays don’t have to deal with. (L.A.-based chef Notasha ButlerHe is credited for creating specialty sandwiches in the production.

Kevin Kenerly in the West Coast premiere of "Clyde's" at Center Theatre Group / Mark Taper Forum

Kevin Kenerly as Montrellous in the West Coast premiere of “Clyde’s” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

(Craig Schwartz / Center Theater Group)

Having such a food-intensive show “adds a week of rehearsal,” the production’s director, Kate Whoriskey, says. Actors need to be proficient in knife skills. Not only that, but the characters’ knife skills have to improve over the course of the play.

“You have to say this monologue and make sure the tomato gets cut by this point,” she explains, and if something goes wrong — like a stray tomato — it can throw off the whole show.

Whoriskey, who once worked as a server, praised the simplicity of the sandwich, saying, “Restaurants that have Michelin stars are often excluding a lot of people. Sandwiches are something that everyone has access to.”

She said that a soft shell crab sandwich with sriracha sauce was one of her favorite sandwiches. Nottage says that she enjoys a classic grilled cheddar cooked in a cast iron skillet. Which makes sense — a grilled cheese happens to be the first sandwich mentioned in the show.

‘Clyde’s’

Where: Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum at 135 N. Grand Ave. in L.A.

When: 8 p.m.Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 6:30 pm Sundays. Ends Dec. 18. (Call to inquire about exceptions.)

Tickets: $35-$120 (subjects change)

Info: (213) 628-27772 centertheatregroup.org

Running time  1 hour, 30 minutes, with no intermission

Protocol COVID:Masks are highly recommended.

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