Take ’60’s retread Arthur Przbyszewsk, 20-something black counter-help Franco Wicks, a lady cop and a Russian immigrant, bring them together in a Chicago Uptown donut shot, infuse the mix with equal parts enthusiasm and ennui; and the result is an incredibly funny, high energy drama that only Tracy Letts could write. Rich and chewy, and longer on substance than the eponymous confection, TheatreWorks did justice to this phenomenal script.
The success of this play is all the more surprising because its harder to pull off redemption stories. Having invested a considerable amount of time and energy into pulling off the knowing look without revealing exasperation, we don’t like our sophistication and cynicism challenged in ways that can’t be resolved by intellectual gamesmanship. However, this is the territory covered by Superior Donuts. I suspect at least some in the audience will find Arthur Przbyszewski’s character a wee bit unsettling. However, inasmuch as these darker threads are woven into a larger fabric, they also raise the possibility of connection without getting maudlin. This is the magic of theatre and why we keep coming back. This is why Superior Donuts works so well.
The interplay between shop owner Arthur Przbyszewski) (Howard Swain), immigrant businessman Max Tarasov (Seren Oliver) and the new hire Franco Wick (Lance Gardner) was fascinating to watch as each pushed each other into more and more polarized positions. Whereas Swain is so physically lethargic he can barely sit on a counter stool, Gardner’s high energy animates the entire stage. Tarasov struggles with his English but is nonetheless incredbly revealing, while Gardner is of few words. Each actor pushed their character to its limits, almost going too far before pulling back. This tension saved the characters from becoming cardboard cutout and gave rise to some of the funnier moments of the evening. Franco’s upstart nagging about Arthur’s wardrobe brought down the house when he urged Arthur to lose the ponytail and ditch the patchouli because it smells like cat piss. The ante is upped when Franco tells him to dump the cat in response to his defense patchouli denial.
This review would be incomplete without mention of newcomer Jonathan Deline. During his brief appearance on stage, Deline’s impressive body armor spoke volumes that would have been impossible for a lesser actor to convey. Hopefully, we will see more of this young man in the years to come.
Set designer Tom Langguth brought a whole world together on stage that was as rich in detail and as deep as the characters themselves. In a play as tied to a particular city and particular location, the details had to be right. However, getting it right also meant making it universal,which is where Langguth’s genius shown. If you’ve above a certain age, you’ve been in that doughnut shop. Care was obviously spent on the small details like the cutaway to the storage room, the hanging string hanging to wrap up boxes and the dollar bill and small photos clustered by the register. The rumbling El over the shop warded off the claustrophobia that can set in when the action is confined to a single interior set.
Superior Donuts continues through the end of the month – and is well worth taking in. The warmth of the donut shop makes this a perfect play for autumnal shadows grow longer.
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
4 out of 5 Stars
October 9th – October 31st