The cast of the world premiere production of Lynn Nottage’s Sweat at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Photo by T Charles Erickson.
Lynn Nottage’s new play Floyd’s, which opened last weekend at the Guthrie Theater, is a sensual ode to many things. On the face of it, the play is stuffed with love letters to the art of sandwich making, something that can be entirely utilitarian or produce a hedonistic flavor explosion. Two chews into the sandwich, it’s a sketch of ex-cons trying to reintegrate into and survive in the post-release working world. A clean plate later, the savories emerge as a study of the pursuit of dignity and self-worth. How far will you go to survive, and how do you know when you’ve been pushed too far? These are some of the threads in this prose ode.
Floyd’s has been in the pipeline for some time. The Guthrie Theater received a Joyce Award in 2014 to underwrite the play commission. At that time, Nottage was already a Pulitzer Prize winner, having taken home the award for Ruined in 2009. In 2017, she received a second Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Sweat, which will be staged by the Guthrie next summer. That second Pulitzer puts Nottage in very exclusive company: Tennessee Williams and August Wilson themselves only received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama across their entire careers. To say that the world premiere of Floyd’s was hotly anticipated is an understatement.
The characters in Floyd’s are written in bold strokes that make you wonder thoughtfully about the rest of their lives. The titular Floyd (Johanna Day) is a domineering, terrifying figure who periodically strides into the kitchen, entirely upending the action; spotting her pending entrances before the rest of the cast is one of the play’s many treats. The kitchen runs under the on-again, off-again supervision of Montrellous (John Earl Jelks), who gives many a melodious sandwich treatise over the course of the show. The rest of the kitchen comprises Letitia (Dame Jasmine Hughes), Rafael (Reza Salazar), and Jason (Andrew Veenstra). Every character has a past and a present that they keep mostly under wraps, something deliciously teased out to the audience in little morsels throughout the 95 minutes of the show. (There is no intermission, so do your business and eating in advance.)
Much of the time, Floyd’s is a raucous comedy, especially when the kitchen staff banter mid-routine. When it’s not being a comedy, the show dips occasionally into the sublime, and a sort of reflected social commentary that sizzles out of the narrative. With the cast’s top-notch performances and Kate Whoriskey’s expert directing, the fusion is one of the most engrossing new plays to premiere in the Twin Cities this season.
Floyd’s plays at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis through August 31.