BWW Reviews: SUPERIOR DONUTS, Southwark Playhouse, February 17 2014
It has been said that the plot of every Hollywood movie can be reduced to four words - "I Love Yo,u Daddy" and that's certainly a charge that can be levelled at Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts (at Southwark Playhouse until 8 March). But, as templates go, it's not a bad one!
Arthur's shop has been selling handmade donuts and coffee at the rough end of Chicago since his father opened it in 1949, fresh off the boat from Poland. Come 2010, it's under assault from the Starbucks over the road, the kids who break in and smash it up and from Arthur's Russian neighbour - keen to expand his DVD business. Arthur is getting tired of it all too, preferring a joint and a sit down to running a business. The drift downhill is interrupted by the arrival of Franco, a black kid who needs a job and someone to talk to - or at! The two find common ground in a love of literature and soon Arthur is fretting about unresolved issues with his deceased father and estranged daughter.
Being set in America and not Britain, the donut shop's customers divide along ethnic lines rather than class, but there's plenty of characters familiar enough to London audiences: the ill-matched cop duo rubbing along; the salt of the earth bag lady dispensing homespun wisdom; the local gambling shark and his heavy. Good as the support cast is, the story is carried by the two principals and both are excellent. Mitchell Mullen looks like James Taylor's entry in a David Crosby lookalike competition, but gets plenty of emotion past the hair and out into the auditorium. If we haven't felt like him yet, we know that we will. Jonathan Livingstone's energetic Franco is equally good, provoking an audible reaction from the audience in sympathy with his plight. We like these two men and we want the best for them.
Ned Bennett's UK premiere walks a narrow line between the overly sentimental and the deeply moving, just about staying on the right side. In less skilled hands or with weaker actors, the spell might be broken, but, across nearly three hours, we keep pulling for the unlikely pair and feel for a world sliding away in the dog-eat-dog corporate world of today. I'll be dropping into an independent coffee shop some time soon.