Review | Floyd’s: a play with heart — that will make your stomach rumble

At the Guthrie, through Aug 31

Dame Jasmine Hughes and Reza Salazar in FLOYD’S. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Whatever you do, don’t go to Floyd’s hungry. Set in a greasy spoon truck stop in Pennsylvania, Floyd’s tells the story of the café’s kitchen staff, all formerly incarcerated and desperate for a paycheck (and a second chance).

Floyd’s, written by two-time Pulitzer prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage and directed by the ever-sharp Kate Whoriskey, is currently playing at the Guthrie. A story about a few people looking for a fresh start in America’s rustbelt might not seem like the place to go for mouthwatering prose, but with Floyd’s, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Nottage is known for giving a voice to the too often voiceless and marginalized in our society.

In Floyd’s we meet Montrellous, played by John Earl Jelks, and for him a sandwich is not just sustenance, it’s a journey. Montrellous seems out of place. He offers up new ideas to any who will happily listen, testing out novel recipe ideas with the staff and experimenting with unique flavor combinations.

Montrellous works alongside Letitia, played by Dame Jasmine Hughes, and Rafael, played by Reza Salazar, who are both struggling with their own issues. Both Letitia and Rafael are faithful followers of Montrellous and his elevated sandwich musings. But when Jason, a newcomer covered in tattoos, joins the kitchen crew, things get heated. Besides having to readjust to a new kitchen flow, the crew must continually navigate around Floyd herself, the overbearing and mean-spirited owner of the establishment played by Johanna Day. Floyd is a woman of a few steely expressions, a cruel streak, and some serious business savvy. Yet, she refuses to let her precious eatery become anything more than a stop on the way for hungry truckers.

Forget garnishes, fancy ingredients, or sandwiches that step out of the “ham and cheese on white” box. Floyd and Montrellous continue to bump up against each other because as much as Floyd may say otherwise, it’s Montrellous’ skilled artistry that keeps the customers rolling in and coming back.

Part of what makes Floyd’s such an impressive feat is the kitchen set designed by Laura Jellinek. The set includes realistic appliances, worktables, and prep counters and a little theater magic to help enhance the illusion that this is a working kitchen.

Hughes commands the stage when she’s in the kitchen, and when Floyd isn’t around. Salazar’s physical comedy is a joy, and you can always trust his character, Rafael, to lighten up the mood or interject a sly quip here and there.

At first, Jason seems like an intolerant bigot, but while his character is a man of few words, Andrew Veenstra delivers some truly poignant scenes, showing a much softer side than what you would expect.

And at the beginning and end of Floyd’s is Montrellous. John Earl Jelk’s performance, especially at the end of the show, will draw you in like the smell of freshly baked bread.

Indeed, you will have a hard time l not rushing to the nearest restaurant to dish about this excellent play and the fantastic performances by each member of the cast.

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