BWW Review: SUPERIOR DONUTS is Good Food for Thought
Sometimes you see a play that's so rich, you can't stop chewing on it. That's how I felt about the Omaha Community Playhouse production of "SUPERIOR DONUTS." Written by Tracy Letts, multiple layers are woven into a funny, yet sadly moving, exploration of the people going in and out of the small Chicago donut shop.
SUPERIOR DONUTS is the story of Arthur Przybyszewski (Kevin Barratt), a despondent Polish immigrant and former draft evader who inherited a failing donut shop from his father whose last word to him was "coward." He has lost interest in his business and in his life. Max Tarasov (Mark Thornburg), the ambitious Russian shop owner next door who desperately wants to buy him out, discovers that the donut shop has been vandalized and calls the cops. When Arthur arrives, he is oddly ambivalent, seeming more worried about missing his coffee delivery.
Arthur's former employee has quit and a "for hire" sign hangs on the door. While the shop is still closed for business, 21-year-old African American Franco Wicks (Aaron Winston) bangs on the door. Through his tenacity and wit, Franco gets the job and puts his exuberant personality to work, trying to breathe life into the dying shop and its owner.
Franco shares his life with Arthur through the 'Great American Novel' he has written on legal pads and coerced him into reading. Despite his antipathy, Arthur loves the book, but he is reluctant to tell his own story in return. He does, however, share his story with us in a series of intimate monologues placed against the 1960s backdrop of social unrest. These are my favorite moments. Barratt is honest and real in his portrayal. Maybe Arthur is a coward. Maybe he is a disappointment. Then again, he still manages to give a daily donut and cup of coffee to the homeless Lady Boyle (Mary Kelly) despite giving up on his own happiness. We love him, ratty ponytail and Grateful Dead t-shirt and all.
There are many moments of hilarity in SUPERIOR DONUTS. Max's outrageous comments are misspoken and socially unacceptable, but Thornburg's delivery ensures they are always funny. Franco's criticism of Arthur's appearance is all fun when spoken with Winston's wide grin.
There are also moments of throat gripping sadness. There is fear riding beneath the humor. There is fear of coming to America and learning a new language. There is fear of street violence, and war, and death. There is fear of loneliness and unrequited love. What Tracy Letts does so beautifully is to lay out these fears and then to allay them. "What could be more human than being scared and keeping it a secret?" His characters learn to speak these secrets to each other because that's what friends do...they share their stories.
Susan Baer Collins and her assistant Bob Fischbach have done a marvelous job directing this excellent cast. This is a superior play from open to close.
Photo Credit: Colin Conces