Inferior Follow-Up: Superior Donuts

superior-donutsTheatergoers attending Superior Donuts in hopes of seeing another Tracy Letts play of the caliber of his award-winning August: Osage County will be sorely disappointed. It’s not really good and it’s not entirely bad; what it does manage to be is thoroughly mediocre.

The chief flaw with this production lies in its writing. Letts uses the central figure of burned-out draft dodger Arthur Przybyszewski, aptly played by Michael McKean, to act as the kingpin in a very weak commentary on America and the many races of people it is comprised of. Przybyszewski is a man of few words, most of which are reluctantly spoken. Letts works to bring out his inner dialogue through some very thin soliloquies littered though out the play that do little but try to milk sympathy and provide details about Przybyszewski’s back story that are difficult to care about.

Second in importance in this paper-thin tale is Franco Wicks, a young black man. Jon Michael Hill does all he can to flesh out this fast-talking street hustler with dreams and a heart of gold cliché. Caught between a gambling addiction and the burning desire to write the great American novel, Wicks doles out idealistic advice to Przybyszewski while playing the two repetitive notes of his character. Representing the Russians is the tactless yet ambitious Max Tarasov. Actor Yasen Peyankov takes his time in warming the audience to Tarasov but manages do so in the second act through his solidarity in the face of adversity. Aside from this there’s Przybyszewski’s stunted romance with a lady cop, another cop with a penchant for Star Trek, some pissed-off bookies looking to collect, and an old lady who substitutes Przybyszewski’s coffee and donuts for her former vice of alcohol; none of this is of any real interest.

Letts seems to be trying to use these characters to vindicate the possibility of the American Dream while, at the same time, preaching to the choir on criticisms of capitalism and lightly scratching at themes of failure and redemption.

The set, designed by James Schuette, is realistically dismal and manages to mirror the material in its sparseness, representing the dead dreams of the play’s leading character. Schuette wisely chooses to press the back wall of the set as close to the apron of the stage as possible, so as to create a tight, intimate space. Given any more room to wander in, these lost and directionless characters would most likely have dissolved into the emptiness of the piece completely.

Rick Sordelet choreographs the play's one moment of action in a fight sequence that swings and misses by a mile. This combat wasn't even mildly believable from the orchestra seats, with wide gaps between fist and face and simulated smacks with sources that were easy to spot.

Director Tina Landua manages with what she has been given, evoking dedicated performances from actors who never seem to question the play’s helplessness. McKean is particularly married to his role, wearing Przybyszewski like a well-worn rock band T-shirt, but even this fails to make more of the old T-shirt than it actually is. All are committed to the proposition despite the play’s feeble explorations and unaccented arguments.

When all is said and done, Letts drags his audience into a depressing donut shop on its last legs that ends up being about as entertaining and educational as such a proposition would probably be in real life. At least in real life one would enjoy the benefit of eating a cruller. - C. Jefferson Thom

Photo by Robert J. Saferstein

cj_thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

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