Reviewed by Judy Richter
It has been in his family for 60 years, but the Polish American owner of the Superior Donuts shop in Chicago isn't much of a businessman. In fact, he isn't much of anything at all other than an aging hippie who has retreated into a life of hopelessness. That's Arthur Przybyszewski (Howard Swain), who inherited the shop from his father. His life takes an entirely new turn when an energetic, irrepressible young black man, Franco Wicks (Lance Gardner), shows up one day looking for a job in Tracy Letts' "Superior Donuts," receiving its regional premiere from TheatreWorks.
Earlier that day Arthur had arrived only to find two neighborhood cops, James Bailey (Michael J. Asberry) and Randy Osteen (Julia Brothers), investigating a break-in and vandalism there. They were summoned by Max Tarasov (Søren Oliver), the voluble Russian immigrant who owns the adjoining video store. Max also wants to buy the doughnut shop, but Arthur won't sell. As is typical of the two men, Max is more upset than Arthur. Arthur also seems too dense to realize that Randy is romantically interested in him.
Although the relationship between Arthur and Franco is prickly at first, it gradually evolves into a form of friendship. The exchanges between the two are hilarious. Along the way, Arthur delivers monologues to the audience, giving a lot of his back story as a man who was born in 1950 and who fled to Canada to avoid the draft during the war in Vietnam. We also learn about his failed marriage.
The upshot is that Franco's enthusiasm allows Arthur to emerge from his shell. Some nasty business that sees Franco falling victim to a bookie, Luther Flynn (Gabriel Marin), and his thuggish associate, Kevin Magee (Elias Escobedo), also leads Arthur to help Franco restore his hope for the future.
Another frequent visitor to the shop is Lady Boyle (Joan Mankin), a bag lady who alternates between the bars and AA meetings. Max's backup in a confrontation between Arthur and the bookie is his hulking nephew, Kiril Ivakin (Jon Deline).
Tom Langguth's set captures the feeling of a shop that's fraying around the edges as well as the neighborhood with its El tracks right across the street and a nearby brick apartment building. Jeff Mockus' sound design recreates the noise of passing El trains, and Steven B. Mannshardt's lighting helps set the mood. B. Modern's costumes sharply define the characters. Jonathan Rider is the fight choreographer.
"Superior Donuts" has a far lighter tone than two other Letts plays -- "Killer Joe" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "August: Osage County" -- seen in the Bay Area, but it shares their sharp writing and character delineation. Director Leslie Martinson and her excellent cast do justice to the script, leading to a highly enjoyable theatrical experience.
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