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Zen and the Art of Sandwich Making

After you see the Guthrie's latest play, Floyd's, you just may rush to the gift store to buy a dish towel.

As the Guthrie's stage went dark, the woman seated next to me turned and said angrily, “I know restaurateurs who hire people right out of jail and they would never treat anyone like that!”

That’s the kind of emotion, the Guthrie Theater’s latest play, Floyd’s, evokes. Floyd is the name of the woman who owns a truck stop restaurant that serves sandwiches the cooks are struggling to elevate, much to the disdain of Floyd, who is described as “mean,” as the ultimate understatement (when she flicks her cigarette ashes on the floor a fire blazes).

The Buddha figure, Montrellous, waxes poetically about becoming one with sandwiches, a democratic food, a meal you can hold in your hands. The three other cooks take turns calling out ingredients for the perfect sandwich, much to their orgasmic delight, but none can top Montrellous’ creations. 

The ex-cons or the more correct term, “returning citizens,” put up with Floyd’s abuse, because although they’ve paid their debt to society, they are still made to feel inferior—and therefore without choices.  One by one they tell their back stories, as they struggle with the consequences of their prior actions and what it means for their futures.

Even with such a dire societal issues at the core, Floyd’s is seriously funny. The dialogue is knife sharp and while the three kitchen workers are stereotypes—a black, a Hispanic and a tough white guy with prison tats—the actors are pitch perfect.

The set is a working kitchen with running water—the cooks dutifully wash their hands before preparing real food on stage. According to the program: 30 sandwiches are prepared and some eaten during the show. In addition, "more than 80 ingredients are mentioned in the script, including 12 kinds of bread; 22 meats, cheeses and other proteins; 20 fruits and vegetables; 14 herbs and spices; and 16 spreads and condiments.” 

The actors were trained how to prep in New York City by Daniel Breaker, a hobby chef who is starring as Aaron Burr in Hamilton on Broadway. Knife skills were especially required for these roles, since much of the dialogue is delivered over chopping lettuce or peppers. There's even a local star in the show: Some of the kitchen equipment was borrowed from Kim Bartmann’s restaurant group, the rest scored from Craigslist. If you're looking for used equipment, who knows, the set may be back on Craigslist when the play's run is over at the end of August.

And while the play is from the imagination of Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright Lynn Nottage, Minneapolis has a restaurant that both serves sandwiches and employs returning citizens, All Square. Read Foodservice News article here: http://www.foodservicenews.net/October-2018/Grilled-Cheese-Restaurant-Provides-Second-Chance/.   No Floyds there.

It’s a play with laughs, humanity and redemption. So worth seeing, especially if you’ve ever worked in a kitchen or own a restaurant. And a good reminder that hospitality isn't only for guests, it's for the people making the sandwiches as well.  Check out the Guthrie's website for ticket information. 

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