BWW Reviews: Geva Theatre's SUPERIOR DONUTS Serves Sweet Sampling of Relationships
In every human life, there are relationships that redirect the journey. Relationships that make people reconsider why they're doing what they're doing where they're doing it. A relational conflict of some sort may incite change, and suddenly the character is on a renewed journey. It's part of what makes a good story.
The setting for Tracy Letts's Superior Donuts is unexpected, but for the name: an uptown Chicago donut shop in a neighborhood filled with multi-ethnic families and business owners. It's a neighborhood present in a thousand American cities, filled with cultures melding and weaving throughout one another. Before the play begins, there's an extended blackout set to the tune of Hoy Lindsey and Ricky Ray Rector's Good Day for the Blues:
"I got up early this mornin' so I could walk the floor/I got to hit the streets cuz' there's a wolf outside my door/The bill collector's callin' and my kids need better shoes/Gonna' go to church on Sunday cuz' I got nothin' left to lose/And it's a good day - it's a real good day for the blues."
A fitting introduction for the shop's owner, Arthur Przybyszewski (Geva's own Director of Education Skip Greer), a stooped-over hippie with a silver ponytail and a penchant for apathy.
Przybyszewski represents Chicago Polonia, a term coined to describe the Poles who immigrated to the Illinois city. His parents started the donut shop in the 1950s, just after he was born, and he inherited the neighborhood staple. The regulars still darken Superior Donuts's door every morning for a cup of hot coffee and one of Przybyszewski's homemade pastries. Local police officers James Bailey (Ron Scott) and Randy Osteen (Mary Jo Mecca) are two of the biggest customers, along with Przybyszewski's Russian next door neighbor, electronics store owner Max Tarasov (Daryll Heysham). Neighborhood alcoholic and bag toter, Lady Boyle (Patricia Lewis), stops in daily for her handout from the oft kind-hearted Przybyszewski.
Contained in Przybyszewski's donut shop is not only the essence of a slowly waning community, but his own personal history. Scenes often end with a golden spotlight on the lanky man, who quietly rolls cigarettes as he recounts the day he evaded Vietnam recruitment or his subsequent time as an expatriate in Toronto.
His moment of redirection comes when a 21-year-old black man named Franco Wicks (James Holloway) applies for a part-time counter job at the shop. Wicks has a debt to pay, and Przybyszewski is looking for help. The two strike an unlikely friendship that treads the line between hostility and respect at first. Wicks's strong opinions, ambition and liveliness contrast sharply with Przybyszewski's apathy and lack of motivation.
Throughout the show, even the donuts take on a life: for Przybyszewski, they are a lifesaver of familiarity and security; while Wicks sees each donut as a wheel to equip a vehicle of income and production for the future.
There's a lot here that makes Superior Donuts, well, superior. It's a unassuming show with a brilliantly talented cast. Some of the performers are even natives (kudos for including local artists, Rochester). The show clocks in at just under two hours with intermission, but there isn't a moment that feels slow. A fight scene at the end, choreographed by David S. Leong, is an ode to well-rehearsed, well-placed routines. Then, there's a seven-foot-tall man, Kiril Ivakin (Jeffrey Evan Thomas), who captures the audience's hearts with less than 15 minutes of stage time at the end of the show. Not to mention the play is laugh-out-loud funny.
Primarily, Superior Donuts is a clear look at the relationships which define each human journey, but there's a lesson to be learned about second chances as well: sometimes, they're superior to first chances.