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Superior Donuts – Broadway Theater Review 

 

SUPERIOR THEATER DESPITE SOME INFERIOR ASPECTS

 

picture - Superior DonutsTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published October 9, 2009

 

Superior Donuts

now playing on Broadway at the Music Box Theater

open run

 

While a young African-American man pumps his heart with improbable dreams, his much older, reserved Polish-American boss lets his hopes languish in his.  Tracy Letts' new comedic drama, Superior Donuts, may not be as edgy and dark as its predecessor, August: Osage County, but it makes an impact of its own with a heart-warming story, clean dialogue and a mighty performance from Jon Michael Hill.

 

Hill, playing Franco Wicks, the smart and savvy 21-year old aspiring writer who acquires a job in Arthur's (Michael McKean) donut shop, makes a stronger entrance to the play than does the vandalism of the shop that kicks off the show.  After fast-talking his way through the interview process, Franco tries to give everything in Arthur's life a facelift: the shop, his business and fashion sense, and well, his face.  He's so enthralled with his pet project that he almost forgets that he's got a $16,000 gambling debt and only a minimum-wage job to put a dent into it.  Letts introduces Luther (Robert Maffia) and his goon Kevin (Cliff Chamberlain) an hour into the play to help jog his memory.

 

But is it an hour too late?  Yes.  Although Hill and the supporting cast of racist Russian entrepreneurs, flirtatious cops, and free-loading customers are enough to keep you entertained under Tina Landau's sharp direction, Franco's real story is delayed almost too long to rescue the first act from being just a volley of well-written banter.  Amid that banter are some insightful observations about enterprise and the usefulness (or lack thereof) of intelligence without opportunity, but the plot doesn't really start to move forward until Franco's conflict is inserted.

 

Unfortunately, some insertions stall the flow of the piece and the plot.  At inopportune and nonsensical times, Letts interjects the pacing of the play with a series of biographical monologues that McKean delivers as lackluster as any other aspect of his performance.  They divulge his hippie past and explain why he forgoes physical and emotional intimacy for moments of silence and solitude, but most of the information we get from them doesn't correlate well with what is transpiring in the moment.  In addition, much of it could either have been omitted or absorbed somewhere else.

 

Also needing better absorption are the blows during Rick Sordelet's choreographed tussles.  The fighting is so laughable beyond the humor in the situation that it almost makes you forget that it is a pivotal moment for all of the characters involved.  Yet, it stands out in the play as the consummate answer to the question: “Don't you believe in possibilities?”  I do.

 

I believe that Superior Donuts is another feather in the cap of Letts' versatility.  I believe that Hill will garner much attention and accolades for his role as Franco.  I believe that, despite some continuity issues, it is possible that you will enjoy this production.  I believe.

 

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

 

photo by Steppenwolf Theatre Company

 

 

 
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