Few playwrights can match Lynn Nottage's ability to write insightful, keenly-observed drama about the social realities of our present moment. She has recently garnered much praise and attention for her play, “Sweat,” which takes a deep dive into the existential issues faced by people in towns all across America that have suffered the trauma of becoming de-industrialized and sliding into decay. In towns and cities everywhere, people wonder, “Who are we, now that those industries are gone? What future are we headed for? Do we even have a future at all?”
While she was in Reading, PA, working on “Sweat,” Nottage received a commission from the Guthrie for “Floyd's.” Part of her process is that she loves to work on two plays at once, so that the two can be “in conversation” with each other. The work on one play always deepens and lends more texture to the work she's doing on the other. “Sweat” is a fierce and serious look at how discarded and forgotten the people of Reading feel. With “Floyd's,” Nottage's brilliant instinct was to create a more humorous, light-hearted peek into the world of people who are arguably the most discarded, forgotten (and vulnerable) workers in America – the formerly-incarcerated. She's succeeded in creating a piece of work that's fun, irreverent, spiritual, and that wears its emotions on its sleeve.
Floyd's is a struggling sandwich shop in Pennsylvania that's popular with truckers. But because Floyd, the tough-as-nails ex-con for whom the joint is named, is in cahoots with shadowy criminals who use her shop as a front for their nefarious dirty-business, Floyd's was never supposed to become a big success. They're more than happy to just let the place limp along from day to day. So Floyd hires only the most vulnerable workers – formerly incarcerated people like herself – who she knows will keep their heads down, keep silent if they see something questionable going on... and will be desperate enough to keep their jobs that they will silently suffer her never-ending torrent of verbal abuse.
Just as society at large undervalues and underestimates the humanity and the potential of the formerly-incarcerated, so does Floyd.
Floyd's Review p.2
“Ain't nobody gonna hire you except for Floyd. 'Cuz if you here, you done something. We all done something. And we just biding our time 'til we can get to another place.” Leticia, to Jason in Floyd's
Even though she sees them every day, Floyd has no idea that her chef, Montrellous, is a world-class zen master of the spiritual quest for the perfect sandwich. She has no idea that, if she let him, he and his loyal, gifted disciples, line cooks Letitia and Rafael, would put her sad little sandwich shop on the national map as a destination for foodies. While they duck and cover to protect each other from Floyd's incessant tirades, serving up orders of dull, pedestrian fare for her customers, they keep their spirits up by spinning fantasies about flavor profiles and ingredients they'd love to try in their Montrellous-inspired search for the perfect sandwich.
But when angry and intense new hire, Jason, upsets the relative equilibrium they've managed to create, they learn to confront and defeat the impulse to make him the problem. Instead, they use his angry, rebellious spirit as fuel to look their situation squarely in the face... to have each other's backs as they seek a way to ease the pain of their past traumas and find the courage to fight for a better future than Floyd's stifling kitchen.
“Floyds'” is a little gem of a play. Go see it. It's at The Guthrie through August 31st.