Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 1:52 p.m.
photo credit: George Schiavone
Playing at the GableStage at the Biltmore, Superior Donuts is Tracy Lett's enjoyable follow up to his Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County (currently playing at the Actors' Playhouse).
If August: Osage County is a cauldron of familial complexities and dizzying dysfunction, then Superior Donuts gives us quite the opposite. It's light-hearted, simple and, often times, sentimental. But that doesn't mean it isn't filled with nuance or substance.
Avi Hoffman plays Arthur Prsybyszewski, the aging pony-tailed proprietor of a donut shop in Chicago's northside. Arthur was once a 1960's radical who marched against the Vietnam War, but is now letting life ease him by without putting up much of a fight. His shop is dilapidated and empty, save for the homeless lady who comes around for free donuts and coffee every other day.
But it isn't until young African American Franco Wicks (played by a scene-stealing Marckenson Charles) walks into Arthur's shop looking for a job that we see some life enter the world-weary hippie. Franco is everything Arthur isn't. He's young, energetic, charismatic, ambitious, and filled with new ideas and dreams.
Franco's sharp wit and likeability get him hired, and it isn't long before he's badgering Arthur to spruce the joint up. Franco envisions a modern shop with healthier choices, wireless capability and poetry reading nights. "Poets don't pay the bills," Franco tells a begrudging Arthur. "But poets drink coffee like a motherfucker." It's Franco's infectious energy and boundless enthusiasm that stirs Arthur's weathered malaise. And it's the pair's odd couple-like dynamic that steers the play throughout.
Franco also tries to nudge the old man into asking police officer Randy Osteen (played by Patti Gardner, who soldiered on with a valiant performance while nursing a case of laryngitis) on a date. Franco begins to positively affect every aspect of Arthur's life, while sharing with him his own ambitions and goals.
It isn't until a pair of two-bit loan sharks enter the donut shop one day that we learn of the trouble simmering beneath Franco's otherwise genuine bravado. Franco's in debt way over his head, and his minimum wage earning working for Arthur just isn't cutting it.
Director Joseph Adler has done a masterful job with this ensemble. Led by the talented Mr. Hoffman, Superior's actors all have tremendous stage presence and great comedic timing, and that's essential with a play where the dialog is everything.
A fight scene choreographed by Paul Homza (who also plays the chief loan shark's henchman, Kevin) is as graphic and violent as you'll see performed during a live production.
At just under two hours, Superior Donuts is an entertaining evening at the theater. It's a satisfyingly saccharine and enjoyable comedy that has its share of witty banter and deft social commentary.
Look for our full review in this week's issue.
Superior Donuts runs through April 10 at the GableStage at the Biltmore (1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables). Performances are at 8:00 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $37.50 to $47.50. Call 305-445-1119 or visit gablestage.org.