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ARTE NOIR EDITORIAL

IT'S NOT FUNNY, BUT IT IS A JOKE


Preview of Lynn Nottage's CLYDE'S, directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton


In conversation with some of my fellow Black artists, we sometimes discuss the weight of the culture that we carry. It’s a weight, self-imposed or otherwise, that implies that Black stories have to be serious, impactful, and hard-hitting. We end up carrying this shield of representation for the entire culture, leading us to be ever-mindful of the battles fought by Angela Davis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Shirley Chisholm, and we attempt to wrap it into all that we do. And if we don’t do it, it is somehow misconstrued as if we are purposefully contributing to buffoonery, coonery, and tomfoolery. Where did this notion come from? Who said it has to be done this way?

 

There is relief and personal gratitude that ArtsWest and the Hansberry Project in Seattle are partnering to bring two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner Lynn Nottage’s 2021 Broadway play Clyde’s to the stage. Ms. Nottage challenges the status quo in her 2022 Tony Award Nominated Best Play. And I’m here for it. 


Clyde’s backdrop is a sandwich shop where the kitchen staff members are all formerly incarcerated. They believe that if they can create the perfect sandwich, they can also dream again, reclaim their lives, and find purpose.    


From left to right: Deja Culver, Jacob Alcazar, Tracy Hughes, Joe Moore and Reggie Jackson, cast of Clyde's

The director of Clyde’s and co-founder of The Hansberry Project, Valerie Curtis-Newton’s mission is, “To celebrate, support and present the work of black theater artists”. Ms. Curtis-Newton isn’t new to Ms. Nottage’s work; in fact, this would be the fourth piece she has directed of her work. She has previously directed     Crumbs From The Table of Joy, Sweat, and an early piece, Mud, River, Stone. However, Clyde’s storyline resonated with Ms. Curtis-Newton on a profound level because of her brother. “My brother went to prison, and his coming out has not been easy. All of the obstacles that the people in the play encounter, he’s encountered.”  She says she learned from the other paradigm what incarceration means. 


“I just think it’s actually how we exist, right? You know, the bad thing happened, and we still laugh on Saturday night, you know, we just figured out that our release and connection and the message of the play is that you need to have self-reliance, and it’s why we’re such a strong faith community because we believe things can get better.”

 

Although Black people’s plight within the prison industrial complex is not a laughing matter, Ms. Curtis-Newton welcomes the humor behind the play's related theme. She says, “I just think it’s actually how we exist, right? You know, the bad thing happened, and we still laugh on Saturday night, you know, we just figured out that our release and connection and the message of the play is that you need to have self-reliance, and it’s why we’re such a strong faith community because we believe things can get better.”

 

Better indeed, and as wonderful as Ms. Curtis Newton is as a human and a director, her process is always layered with intent and purpose. It is no surprise that the casting of Clyde’s is a masterclass of how to elevate the caliber of actors in Seattle, something Curtis-Newton is adept at doing. Clyde’s brings Curtis-Newton together again with two of her regular thespian mainstays, Tracy Michelle Hughes (Clyde in Clyde’s) and Reginald André Jackson (Montrellous in Clyde’s). You may have seen Hughes in the recent production of The Lion Tells His Tale, and Jackson in Fat Ham. The two have been purposefully teamed with three emerging actors who gracefully accepted their assignments.


Cast members Tracy Michelle Hughes and Reginald Andre Jackson

Ms. Hughes's history with Ms. Curtis-Newton goes back to her early arrival in Seattle, and she credits Valerie with allowing her to continuously bring Black stories to life on stage. This is Ms. Hughes’s second time performing in a Lynn Nottage play. She also performed in Sweat. Of the experience, she said, “I think it’s my way of giving back. My way of teaching, I think, as an actress, I continually ask myself why do I do this? And learning what I’ve learned from her shows gives me a sense that I’m actually doing something. I’m giving back, and I’m still learning things I never learned when I was a kid.”

 

The process of selecting which play to include in a season is normally a process that takes place months in advance of an announcement. But the final choice is one made by the artistic director. Mathew Wright, ArtsWest Artistic Director, described his feelings about Ms. Nottage, providing a glimpse into why Clyde’s was selected for the season. Wright stated, “One of the things that separates her for me is that she has a love for her characters; it is something that moves me every time I read it, and it feels like these people exist for her, and they’re not just names on a page and a set of lines. I think there’s something really beautiful and special about that in her playwriting. This is an opportunity to see the work of an amazing American playwright Lynn Nottage, an amazing director Valerie Curtis-Newton, and an amazing cast led by Tracy Michelle Hughes and Reginald André Jackson. This is exactly the excellence that ArtsWest is committed to.”

 

Mathew’s words perfectly describe what I believe is vital for our theatre-going community. Kick your summer off right, and between June 6 and June 30, see Clyde’s with your curiosity and your thirst for community laughter and learning. I guarantee you it’s a sandwich with all the trimmings that we as a community can chew on. Add this as one of many ways that we can represent.


Clyde's runs at ArtsWest Theatre in West Seattle, June 6 through June 30. Visit the ArtsWest website for ticket and additional show information.


1 Comment


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