Good eats at the Guthrie Theater: 'Floyd’s' serves hot dish on post-prison life

T. Charles Erickson

T. Charles Erickson

Prison is the great equalizer, argues a character in Floyd’s. No matter your age, race, or gender, doing time transforms your life. To undo some of the damage prison did to their spirits and reputations, the kitchen staff in the eponymous establishment are counting on another great equalizer: food. Specifically, sandwiches.

The Guthrie Theater production of Floyd’s is a world premiere from playwright Lynn Nottage, who recently won her second Pulitzer for the thematically related Sweat. Like that play (which the Guthrie will stage next summer), Floyd’s draws insight from interviews Nottage conducted in the poverty-stricken community of Reading, Pennsylvania. Despite its heavy themes, Floyd’s is funny. It will probably make you laugh, it may make you cry, and it will definitely make you think.

The proprietor of the greasy spoon where Floyd’s is set is the richly villainous Floyd (Johanna Day) herself, costumed by Jennifer Moeller to look like a peroxide-dipped Chrissie Hynde. Floyd is willing to hire formerly incarcerated returning citizens who don’t have any other options, but she seems cruelly determined to keep their prospects—or even their morale—from improving.

Montrellous (John Earl Jelks) thinks he can boost the restaurant’s fortunes with more ambitious offerings, and he inspires his co-workers Letitia (Dame Jasmine Hughes) and Rafael (Reza Salazar) to invent their own sandwiches. Even Jason (Andrew Veenstra), the new guy whose racist tattoos don’t help his standing in the eyes of his co-workers of color, gets into the act. Floyd literally isn’t having any of it, and her refusal to sample her employees’ creations is symbolic of her inability to acknowledge their true potential.

At a trim 95 minutes, Floyd’s isn’t saddled with any contrived plot devices. The characters talk, they fight, they flirt, and they cook—in highly realistic fashion, thanks to Laura Jellinek’s convincing set and authentically edible ingredients. Like Will Snider’sHow to Use a Knife, well staged at Mixed Blood Theatre in 2017, Floyd’s takes full advantage of its rich culinary setting.

All five cast members are making their Guthrie debuts, as is director Kate Whoriskey, a close Nottage collaborator. Every performer is superb, but it’s particularly gratifying to see Hughes, one of the most electrifying actors to emerge on Twin Cities stages this decade, grace the McGuire Proscenium Stage. She’s perfectly cast as a woman who uses her wit and ostentatious charisma not so much to hide her struggle as to survive it.

The local theater scene has often been criticized for generating new work that plays well in Minnesota but rarely travels elsewhere. Now theaters like the Guthrie and Sarah Rasmussen’s Jungle are working to change that, and there’s no doubt that Floyd’s will have a long life on stages near and far. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this sharp, entertaining, and powerful premiere production.

Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
612-377-2224; through August 31