In the play, Aduba stars as Clyde, the owner of a truck-stop sandwich shop staffed by formerly incarcerated people. “Clyde’s,” with a cast that also includes Ron Cephas Jones, Reza Salazar, Kara Young and Edmund Donovan, is set to open at the Second Stage’s Hayes Theater on Nov. 23. Previews begin in less than a month, which seems like a lifetime when planning live entertainment during a pandemic.
“When you’re on Broadway, the question that is always overhead is how long until we’re told we’re going to close?” Aduba tells me over the phone from her New York-area home. “I’ve never been in a show where it’s been ‘Are we even going to open?’ because the drama’s happening so big offstage. There’s a character bigger than any of us at play here that makes all of this seem like it’s built on shaky ground.”
But Aduba is hopeful “Clyde’s” will go off without a hitch. “I am an optimist in my core and spirit,” she says. The play marks the actor’s return to the New York stage after appearing Off Broadway in “Venice” at the Public about eight years ago: “My team and I have been looking for something for a long time because this is my lifeblood.”
But Hollywood came calling shortly after “Venice” closed, and her star rose quickly with the premiere of “Orange Is the New Black” in 2013. Aduba’s work as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren earned her two Emmys, and last year she scored another win for her portrayal of politician and activist Shirley Chisholm in FX’s “Mrs. America.” Most recently, she led and was Emmy-nominated for HBO’s revival of “In Treatment” as a therapist juggling her own life and those of her patients.
She signed on to “Clyde’s” in the spring. In mid-September, producers released a photo of Aduba in character. She’s standing in an industrial kitchen. Her hair is as high as it is long. She’s wearing large gold hoop earrings as well as several rings and a necklace that reads, “DAMN.” She’s holding a kitchen knife as if she’s using it to file her long blood-red nails. “Clyde is a woman who is just trying to make it,” Aduba says. “She will claw your eyes out if that’s what it comes down to. But not for your destruction, but for her own preservation. … That’s the only thing that she knows is how to survive.”
Broadway also knows how to survive. “This community is resilient, strong and resourceful,” Aduba says, “and we’re doing every single thing to ensure that not only are the actors, the crew and staff safe, but also the audience is safe.”
Aduba expects a flood of emotions on opening night. “I’m a crier,” she says. “I feel it already.”
She adds with a laugh, “I’ll use Clyde’s nails to catch the tears.”
For now, she’s looking forward to being back in New York’s Theater District, which she and her friends refer to as the “campus.”
“We call the first day of rehearsal the first day of school for a reason,” Aduba says. “We’re in our sweatpants rolling around on the floor, voting for who’s going to be the equity deputy [the liaison between the cast and the Actors’ Equity Assn.], figuring out whether you want to do a 20-minute lunch or an hour break.”
When performances begin, on the two-show days “you and your cast are figuring out if you are going to do lunch in the lobby or upstairs in your room or maybe go somewhere around the corner and grab sushi,” she says.
“The theater is my family,” Aduba continues. “That’s who fed me and paid my rent, got me insurance and kept me fulfilled artistically. They were and are the people who kept telling me to keep going.”
The same can now be said about Broadway — keep going!