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Theater Wed Nov 07 2012
(left to right) Preston Tate, Jr. and Richard Cotovsky in Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.'s production
of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, directed by Matt Miller. Photo by Greg Rothman.
I had the privilege of reviewing the Steppenwolf production of Superior Donuts in 2008. A critical and financial success, the Steppenwolf version moved to Broadway, with most of its Chicago cast, including actor Michael McKean as donut shop proprietor Arthur Przybyszewski recreating their roles in New York. I was anxious to see what four years would do the play; would I have a different perspective? How would a smaller (and more local) production stand beside Letts' guided production? Well, the "lyrics" remain the same, but the "song" is personal this time. The '08 production was larger in scale, and a metaphor for the runaway and get outta my way American Dream -- if you're not corrupted by the gold rush, you're bulldozed over by it.
"There's a hole in the soul of America...", I wrote four years ago, but four years later, we've seen that robber barons fall, and rise, and fall again -- our society sits on quicksand. Therefore, it's quite appropriate that director Matt Miller guides his 2012 cast to personally engage us in this story. This time, no allegory, nor perceived societal indictments, but an everyman (or could be everyman) story on running until you have to stop running.
Arthur (Richard Kotovsky) doesn't look forward to much in life, nor does he look back on life. He works the donut shop left to him by his father, making the donuts needed by night to be served in the morning to the dwindling number of commuters and neighborhood leftovers. He's lived a "dodger's life," beginning with running to Canada after being drafted for Vietnam, to dodging talking or listening to his ex-wife, to dodging being a father to his daughter after the breakup of his marriage. He settles into the only thing that he doesn't have to put a lot of thought into -- the Uptown donut shop founded his father. The shop is safe and solid... until vandals, disappearing clientele and his unrelenting Russian immigrant neighbor Max (Paige Smith) hound him at every opportunity to sell the donut shop to him. But these do little to change Max's dodger persona -- he ignores the inevitable, perhaps because there's no other place to run. Even upon hearing of his ex-wife's death, he dodges dealing with his feelings and his daughter. He even dodges the questions of cop-friends Randy and James, who suspect Arthur's former counter help is behind the latest shop vandalization.
Thirty years later Uptown is officially gentrified. Arthur finds new counter staff in Franco Wicks (Preston Tate, Jr.), who wants the job vacated by the previous counter help that acrimoniously departed. Franco is black, street, geeky and assertive. Bounding with abundant energy, he immediately has big plans to turn Superior Donuts around and give the scrubbed clean Uptown a force to be reckoned with. Arthur is initially weary of Franco and his "plans," but warms as Franco inserts himself as business "partner," cultural debating adversary, personal makeover artist and matchmaker for Arthur. Arthur gets a glimmer of hope that something -- anything -- could be different. Change, no matter slight, is in his grasp. He reads Franco's literary opus, America Will Be..., and offers to assist in finding literary representation for Franco. The closer the men become, the more their worlds collide. As Arthur continues to dodge his past, Franco's past pays a shop visit in the form of sickly bookie Luther (Karl Potthoff), who, with personal goon Kevin (Christopher Borek) along, reminds Franco of the $16K he's in arrears on. As events turn, when Franco can no longer dodge his obligation to Luther, Arthur finds himself with no recourse but to turn around from his standing-in-place, and face what is happening in his life, all of his life.
This time it's personal -- Superior Donuts, that is. The Mary-Arrchie ensemble embody the personal connections between all of the characters; we hear them, individually and collectively, all trying to make their way through. As Lady (Joanna Maclay), Arthur's most consistent customer, tells him, "It's the (ones) like that that knock you in the head." The acting is solid from all, though lines from a few characters need to be delivered a little tighter, but the most integral part of this revival is its success is making its audience feel for what is happening, and what happens to its principals; we're pulled in, and that makes Superior Donuts worthy of our time and investment.
Superior Donuts plays through November 25 at The Royal George Cabaret Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St. Tickets are currently on sale at the Royal George Box Office by calling 312-988-9000 or in person during business hours (Wednesdays - Saturdays from 12pm to 6pm or until curtain on performance days). Tickets are also available through Ticketmaster at ticketmaster.com. For additional information, visit maryarrchie.com.