If you were one of the lucky ones to see Clyde’s during its limited engagement in the Helen Hayes Theater, in the midst of Broadway making its triumphant return after months of darkened stages due to the pandemic, then you saw magic in the making. Uzo Aduba, Ron Cephas Jones, Reza Salazar, and Kara Young captivated the masked audiences with performances that fed our 18-month long cravings for good theater and storytelling. Kara, who made her Broadway debut in the Lynn Nottage play, starred as Letitia, a short-order cook at a truck stop sandwich shop owned by Aduba’s merciless Clyde, who is also formerly incarcerated woman and employs recently incarcerated workers in her kitchen.
“When I first laid eyes on those words, it felt like another extension of some of the women I grew up with who had really, really challenging lives, and were sometimes on the brink of poverty or have faced poverty in their history. There was that knowing and understanding for me, but at the same time, I have never be incarcerated, and then on top of that, Letitia has a sick child that she has to care for,” Kara explained in an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife as part of the Tony Contenders series. “It was adding all of the elements and as much research, as much care, as much love that I have for her, although I’ll never truly know her in the way that I’m setting out to know her and honor her every night. It’s about a Black woman honoring another Black woman honoring a Black woman who has been incarcerated, honoring a Black woman who has a child, honoring a black woman who is the epitome of resilience and perseverance and decides to work every day to not only take care of herself, but also take care of her child.”
Ron Cephas Jones’ Montrellus is the head chef at Clyde’s and helps teach his fellow ex-convicts, including Letitia, that there is more to them than their pasts behind bars. In doing so, he brings the employees along on a journey of discovering their personal “perfect” sandwich recipe — a difficult feat when the real taste of “perfection” comes from within. “For me, things are never perfect. There’s always something to be fixed,” Kara explained. “Imagine a life of saying ‘You fucked up, you fucked up, you fucked up, you fucked up,’ and you just want to get something right — I think there’s a deeper metaphor for that, that represents to me wanting to be good enough.”
She continued, “We’re also doing something that’s very ancestral — cooking is the source of all things, food brings people together. So, what he’s teaching us is that every ingredient is a dream, every ingredient is a new way to see your world. I feel like finding ‘the perfect sandwich’ is not necessarily about reaching perfection, but about digging deeper within oneself to find out ‘How can I truly love myself?'”
Kara, whose character Letitia was incarcerated for stealing medication for her sick daughter, recalled the significance one of Montrellus’s lines, when he tells her, “We are not bound to our mistakes.” “I think it’s a universal truth for a lot of people,” she said. “You did something that you’re not proud of, but you did it in order to survive. I think a part of the forgiving is very complex, because I would do it again. I would do anything to protect my child, and it’s very conflicting.”
Stay tuned for the 75th Tony Award nominations on Monday, May 9th.