Now extended through May 6th!!
|Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Superior Donuts is pure Chicago. There’s an ailing Uptown donut shop run by the grizzled son of Polish immigrants, a haunted draft dodger with an unpronounceable last name. His sole employee is a cocky Truman College dropout, and the local cops make it a point to stop by and decry the new Starbucks across the street. Tentative race relations, recollections of what the city used to be, pipe dreams and big trouble ensue as the familiar disembodied voice occasionally proclaims “This is Wilson.” We are in Uptown. And thanks to Letts’ brilliant script, excellent direction and a phenomenal cast, we never want to leave.
Superior Donuts, which premiered at Steppenwolf in 2008 and eventually moved to Broadway, takes place entirely in the Uptown business of the same name. Arthur Przybyszewski (Richard Cotovsky) has previously run the shop alone but is shaken by a recent vandalism and is resisting the pressure to sell to Max (Paige Smith), the loudmouthed Russian who owns the neighboring electronics store. Enter Franco (Preston Tate, Jr.), a young African American man with ambition as wide as his smile, who takes the minimum-wage job at Superior Donuts to “pay off a debt.” But as Arthur grows to respect and value Franco’s energy, he must also face dark truths about his new hire – and himself.
So much is superior about Donuts, beginning with its brilliant script. Letts is a beautiful writer, thoroughly and truthfully bringing the audience into the world of the play. No self-indulgence here: Letts wants you to experience the characters and their environment firsthand. Though his spot-on portrayal of Chicago engages a local audience, his dialogue – so real it could be taking place at any coffee shop or el stop right this minute – has universal appeal. In so much pop culture, the friendship between a pessimistic middle-aged white man and an energetic young black man is overly sentimental, extremely cliché and heavily reliant on stereotypes. Not in Superior Donuts. Arthur and Franco’s relationship is the cornerstone of the play, a constant give-and-take encompassing smart-aleck banter, reluctant revelations and maturation in both parties.
Letts’ script, however flawless, is not for the faint of heart or unskilled of theatre company. Several scenes are physically and emotionally brutal and require a heavy hand. Director Matt Miller knows just when to up the intensity and when to pull back and let a lighthearted beat take its course. His understanding and interpretation of Superior Donuts is commendable, and he’s clearly shared these gifts with his cast.
Down to the smallest role, including Bryan Kelly as an intimidating yet kind Russian, each performance in Superior Donuts is fully realized and deeply felt. Dereck Garner intimidates as a punkish thug, and Karl Potthoff’s gambler overlord is truly frightening. Susan Monts-Bologna brings an eerie authenticity to a homeless woman who’s the shop’s only regular customer. Bradford Stevens has some nice comic moments as a gruff cop with a quirky hobby, and Millie Hurley is endearingly awkward as his partner, who can’t quite summon the courage to ask Arthur on a date. From his first line to his final exit, Smith commands the stage as the hirsute and opinionated Max.
However, the beating hearts of Superior Donuts are Tate and Cotovsky. In his Chicago debut, Tate conquers the character of Franco with a grace rare in young actors. Franco is every inch his age, bursting with energy and creativity but too haunted to be truly happy-go-lucky. Franco is every cocksure kid standing next to you on the Red Line el platform, but he’s also extraordinarily unique thanks to Tate’s breakthrough performance. According to the program, Cotovsky has a long history with Superior Donuts: he participated in original workshops for the show and understudied Michael McKean at Steppenwolf before playing the role in Washington, D.C. Cotovsky’s reverence for Arthur shines through every quiet word, every reluctant gesture. Arthur doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but Cotovsky sure does.
One of the best things about reviewing theatre is finding the hidden gems: hole-in-the-wall storefronts or dusty park district venues that burst with well-kept secrets. In the case of Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s Superior Donuts, the secret’s out: the show is sold out through this weekend. The intimate space guarantees a glorious intense experience, but it doesn’t hold many, so get your tickets now. A slice of Chicago – in all its gritty, imperfect glory – awaits.
Superior Donuts continues through
March 25th May 6th at Angel Island Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan Road (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $18-$22, and are available by phone (773-871-0442) or online at TicketWeb.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at MaryArrchie.com. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, which includes one 10-minute intermission)
Richard Cotovsky (Arthur Przybyszewski), Preston Tate, Jr. (Franco Wicks), Millie Hurley (Randy), Bradford Stevens (James), Paige Smith (Max), Susan Monts-Bologna (Lady Boyle), Karl Potthoff (Luther), Dereck Garner (Kevin), Bryan Kelly (Kiril)
behind the scenes
Matt Miller (director); Robert Groth and Jenniffer Thusing (set design); Matthew Gawryk (lighting); Stefin Steberl (costumes); Allie Kunkler (hair and makeup); David Woolley (fight design); Katherine Greenleaf (props); Joe Court (sound); Andrew C. Donnelly (stage manager); Jim Stevens (asst. director); Alison Barnes (asst. stage manager)