By Tracy Letts (Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County)
CENTRAL IOWA PREMIERE
Click photos for a larger view.
Click photos for a larger view.
Arthur Przybyszewski (Triple Espresso‘s Patrick Albanese) owns a decrepit donut shop in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Franco Wicks (Ken-Matt Martin, Napoleon Douglas), a black teenager who is his only employee, wants to change the shop for the better. This comedy-drama by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tracy Letts explores the challenges of embracing the past and the redemptive power of friendship.
“…a soulful play, full of humor and humanity… drawn with deep affection.” – Variety
“[Letts] never fails to impress and surprise with his finely wrought characters and sharp dialogue…a wonderfully affecting look at a vanishing world and the healing power of friendship.” – CurtainUp
Arthur – Patrick Albanese
Randy – Anne Frett
James – Pernell Ferguson
Luther – Gabe Thompson
Kevin – Devin Preston
Kiril – Shane Donegan
Max – Gary Roberts
Lady – Ruthellen Cunnally
Franco – Ken-Matt Martin, Napoleon Douglas
Napoleon’s performance dates: Sept. 26, 27, 29 and Oct. 6
Ken-Matt’s performance dates: Sept. 28 and 30, Oct. 3, 4, 5, 7
Director: Maxwell Schaeffer
Stage Manager: Nicole Taweel
Production Stage Manager: Rachael Rhoades
Scenic Designer: Ron Borstad
Lighting Designer: Jim Trenberth
Costume Designer: Mel Zienenfus
Sound Designer: Josh Jepson
Props Designer: Joy Kripal
Hair/Wig/Make-up Designer: Cindy Hummel
Dialect Coach: John Graham
Dramaturge: Mark Maddy
Carpenter: Paul Mostrom
Theater review: StageWest’s ‘Superior Donuts’
By Michael Morain, Des Moines Register
True to its title, the sugar-dusted comedy Superior Donuts is better than your average box of treats. It’s warm. It’s sprinkled with jokes. And StageWest is serving it fresh through Oct. 7 at the Civic Center’s Stoner Theater.
But if you’re a fan of gooey filling, you’re out of luck. The story of an unlikely friendship is too smart for that, which is what you’d expect from the Chicago playwright Tracy Letts, who won both a Tony and a Pulitzer for August: Osage County, an acidly funny account of one family’s spectacular disintegration. That show came to the Civic Center’s main stage two years ago and will be retold next year as a movie, with Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep.
Donuts doesn’t reach for the same heights. It’s a smaller story, a gentler one, instead of the Great American Play. But here in the capable hands of director Maxwell Schaeffer (of the oldies station 93.3 KIOA) and a terrific local cast led by Patrick Albanese, Napoleon Douglas and Ken-Matt Martin, it rises dough-like to the occasion, successfully opening the company’s 16th season.
Albanese (who was Buzz Maxwell in Triple Espresso and seems to be building his resume around coffee and donuts) plays a listless former hippie named Arthur Przybysz ewski, a graying man who looks as shabby as the donut shop he owns in Uptown, on Chicago’s gentrified north side. He inherited the place years ago, from his Polish immigrant dad, and is content to let it fade into the shadow of the Starbucks across the street. When vandals pay a night-time visit, he demonstrates far less concern than the Russian guy who owns the DVD store next door (Gary Roberts, with a thick accent) and the two cops who come to investigate (Pernell Ferguson, Anne Frett). (Designer Ron Borstad rendered the hole-in-the-wall set with a compact cut-away layout, like an ant farm, and details that ring as true as the dinky chimes above the door.)
Enter: a young black man with more bluster than the city’s wind. His name is Franco Wicks and he is as lively as Arthur is not. (Douglas shares the role with Martin and electrified it in the show I saw Sunday. The man who sat behind me had come twice, specifically to compare their performances, and said Martin is much different but just as good.)
“I’m a self-starter,” Franco says, in the script’s biggest understatement.
Even before he’s hired to work at the shop, he has suggestions for its improvement. Bring in a radio. Hang up some art. Sell healthy options, like bran muffins or fruit.
He even tries to spiff up his new boss.
“You know who looks good in pony tails?” Franco says. “Girls. And ponies.”
From here you can sort of guess where the story is going. The kid’s energy rubs off on the old guy. And the old guy, in turn, teaches the kid some lessons from experience. They are both less guarded than they initially appear.
Two minor thugs (Gabe Thompson, Devin Preston) and the neighborhood alcoholic (played with batty finesse by Ruthellen Cunnally) fill out the cast, but the plot itself doesn’t go much further than around the block or, for that matter, an ordinary sitcom.
Except for a gasp-worthy twist near the end, it’s the characters’ internal changes that matter here, expressed in pitch-perfect dialogue that sounds as if Letts had actually written it on a laptop in a donut shop. (He did not. It was Uptown’s lack of such a shop that inspired the play’s creation.)
Douglas (and Martin, no doubt) has a knack for the fast-talking bravado (and occasional f-bomb) that bounces right up from the street. And Albanese, who was so kooky in “Triple Espresso,” is quietly efficient, saying as much by fussing with napkin dispensers as he does with words. He speaks more freely in the monologues that connect his own dreams – love, marriage, fatherhood – to the bigger American ones of immigrant success and racial equality and, if we’re lucky, progress from one generation to the next.
But for the most part, the show goes easy on the social commentary. There isn’t a whole lot to chew. It isn’t “Superior Bagels,” and that’s OK. It’s lighter, and the better for it.
Theater review: Wonderfully Crafted Production Worth a Dozen Superlatives
By John Busbee, The Culture Buzz
StageWest Theater Company often begins each season with a rousing musical fanfare, but changes tactics with wondrous results thanks to an engaging script (Superior Donuts by Broadway phenom Tracy Letts) and an excellent production under the skillful direction of Maxwell Schaeffer. They’ve even upped the ante, allowing all productions, not just the musicals, run a full three weeks. With the quality this season opener presents, that is probably a wise decision so as to better accommodate what should be a strong response to see this show.
Superior Donuts is the latest vehicle through which award-winning playwright Tracy Letts lets his rich characters blossom before an audience’s eyes. Lacking the breadth and epic reach of his signature success, August: Osage County, Letts nevertheless brings an irresistible likeability to the story and characters of Superior Donuts. Second generation Uptown Chicago donut store owner, Arthur Przybyszewski, epitomizes despondency as he operates his store with the enthusiasm of a cowed 98-pound weakling. His daily routine follows its well-worn groove. The departure of his former employee followed by the assumptive hiring of his new employee, Franco Wicks, becomes the catalyst for a seeming avalanche of changes for Arthur.
The opening sequence sets the back story, bringing an array of neighborhood characters into the just-vandalized donut shop. Max Tarasov (Gary Roberts), the Russian immigrant now an enterprising entrepreneur, banters with the two cops, Officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey (Anne Frett and Pernell Ferguson, respectively) as they assess the damage. Lady Boyle (Ruthellen Cunnally), an off-the-wagon street tramp, wanders in for her daily donut fix. Roberts does a fine job bringing a proud-to-be-an-American aura to his Tarasov, while Cunnally is appropriately crusty. Frett and Ferguson give us two characters who develop wonderfully as the story develops.
As Arthur (don’t make me attempt his last name more than once!), veteran performer Patrick Albanese magnificently cloaks himself in the mantle of a worn-down 60s radical lacking the passion to tilt at any more wind mills. Albanese is superb delivering volumes through his minimalistic and effective style of performing. The pace of the action is noticeably energized when Franco Wicks enters the scene following Arthur’s solo entrance and assessment of his trashed shop. Enter Franco Wicks, played with undeniable enthusiasm and verve by Napolean Douglas (the role alternates between Douglas and Ken-Matt Martin). The relationship pushes and pulls between these two as we watch grudging walls crumble, and concern for each other develop. An especially enjoyable sequence is when these two pit themselves against each other in a war of intellect that Franco feels certain he has the upper hand. Guess again, and the resultant “pay-off” to Arthur the victorious is pivotal. Another relationship with some rich moments is when the development of Arthur and Randy as a couple is coaxed by Franco.
When bad guy elements Luther Flynn (Gabe Thompson) and Kevin Magee (Devin Preston) enter the scene to shake down Franco for a past debt, a darker twist in the story happens. The final confrontation of good versus evil helps wrap up this chapter of the ongoing dysfunction of this enclave of Uptown Chicago characters.
With excellent grit added by Ron Borstad’s scenic design, Superior Donuts satisfies the theatre-goer more so than its title namesake satisfy a hunger. Get your serving to this excellent show before its three week expiration date!