Superior Donuts–Seattle Public Theater Gets It Right

Tracy Letts wrote Superior Donuts one year after his Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County.  Donuts only had a short run on Broadway, but is now being steadily performed in regional theater.  Its durability is understandable.  The comedic drama is skillfully constructed and satisfies on a number of levels.  The Seattle Public Theater and director Russ Banham have assembled a wonderfully talented cast for the show that is serving as their season opener; they should be very proud of their work. 

The play is set in present day Chicago at the Superior Donuts coffee shop.  Kevin Mckeon plays Arthur, the disillusioned, sixty year-old owner of the store that has been mysteriously vandalized before the opening curtain.  He has neglected his shop to the extent that the first coffees served in the play have to be brought in from the new Starbucks that has opened across the street from his diner.  Arthur’s back-story is built through a series of soliloquies that are presented in-between the action of the earlier scenes.  These moments provide some explanation for his overwhelming passivity.  Mckeon’s natural performance is the centerpiece of the show.  His world-weariness is almost palpable.

 Franco, played by Charles Norris, comes in to shake up the play and Arthur’s world as a young African American who desperately needs a job and is hired on at the shop. The contrast between Franco’s frenetic enthusiasm and Arthur’s quiet cynicism makes for a number of wonderfully comedic moments.  On a deeper note, Arthur’s spiritual travels are inextricably linked to his relationship with his new employee.  Both actors are easily up to the challenge of making this all work.

Jena Cane and Troy Allen Johnson bring a pleasant affability to their roles as the two Chicago cops entwined in the life of the diner.  Sally Brady is particularly impressive as Lady Boyle, the local bag lady.  She delivers a touching humanity to a part that could easily be dismissed as a one-note joke.

My ear missed the flat Chicago Midwestern twang from the actors, but in every other way we might as well all have been on the shores of Lake Michigan instead of Green Lake.  The intermediate light snow falling on the set was particularly effective.

The play references Langston Hughes’ line “America will be,” from his poem “Let America be America Again.”  By the final curtain this talented ensemble has provided a number of thought-provoking insights on how America will be in the near, exciting and often frighteningly confusing future. 

Superior Donut directed by Russ Banham, Sets by Craig Wollam, Costumes designed by K.D. Schill,  Lights by Tim Wratten , Sound deisgner Jay Weinland,  Fight Choreographer—and it’s a doozy!—Geoffrey Alm.  Presented at the Bathhouse on Green Lake by Seattle Public Theater in association with Abrams Artists Agency. Running through October 21.  Ticket information at www.seattlepublictheater.org.

 

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