‘Superior Donuts’ Has No Holes

Arthur Przybyszewski has given up on life.  The aging hippie works his family’s 60+ year old donut shop whenever he feels like opening it, mourns the recent death of his ex-wife, and is estranged from his daughter.  Then Franco Wicks enters the picture.  This ebullient, confident young man takes a job as Arthur’s assistant and slowly helps him rediscover the joy of living.  When demons from Franco’s past return to stalk him, will Arthur help his new friend or run away again?  Find out by watching Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Prior to tonight’s production, I had never seen a Tracy Letts play.  Now I’d like to see more of them.  Letts has a genuine gift for dialogue, skillfully blending comedy and drama, and a real knack for character development as every role from supernumerary to lead has a story arc that gives each a chance to shine.  It also didn’t hurt that he also happens to tell a great story with Superior Donuts.

Susie Baer-Collins returns to the Omaha Playhouse to direct this production and brought her A game to the table.  She nimbly fleshed out all of the individual story arcs and led her actors to strong performances, deftly guiding them from comedy to drama and back again.

As stated earlier, Letts has created a nice little microcosm which is a dream for character actors as each role has its wonderful little quirks.  Some sterling performances include Mary Kelly as an alcoholic street lady with a major sugar addiction and wisdom that either defies or results from the fact that she doesn’t live in the greater construct called reality; Devel Crisp as a dedicated and Trekkie police officer; Mark Thornburg as a gregarious Russian businessman hoping to buy Arthur’s donut shop; and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as the cop with a crush on Arthur.

My socks were knocked off by the performance of Jeremy Estill as Luther Flynn.  Making his Playhouse debut, Estill brought an incredible sincerity and a palpable sense of danger to the neighborhood loan shark.  You really believe him when he says he doesn’t want to rough up Franco who is having difficulty repaying his sizable debt, but you also don’t doubt him when he promises harm to Franco if he can’t come up with the cash.  Estill’s well chosen gestures wonderfully animate Flynn and made him one of the night’s treats.

Aaron Winston has a stellar Playhouse debut as Franco Wicks.  Winston brings a real joie de vivre to Franco who has a lot of wild ideas for updating and upgrading the hole in a wall donut shop such as adding music, holding literary events, and upselling pastries.  Winston’s Franco eats life with shining teeth and is such a dreamer that Arthur (and the audience) can’t help but be buoyed by his enthusiasm and energy.  That infectious energy works just as well in Wicks’ more dramatic scenes as you’ll crash with Franco as he pays an awful price for his failure to repay Luther Flynn.

It is an excellent performance, but I would recommend that Winston pick up the pace a bit as it will add some more zing to his fine work.

Kevin Barratt’s work as Arthur Przybyszewski is a tour de force.  He begins the play as an utterly defeated man going through the motions of life.  He barely talks, shows little emotion, and seems resigned to the fact that his life has derailed.  When Franco’s zest begins to rub off on him, you see Arthur begin to lighten up and start rediscovering the joys of life.  He becomes more animated, has fun, and dances badly.  But Barratt’s best moments occur during his numerous monologues as he recounts his life up to the present moment and you really feel the joy of his childhood, the regret of his teens when he makes a cowardly choice, and the pain of watching his family disintegrate.  And it is through those stories that you’ll understand why he takes the steps he does to help Franco at the show’s climax.

I was rather impressed with Matthew D. Hamel’s set.  It has the perfect look of a hole in the wall donut shop from its aged racks, to its ancient cash register, to the old, but functioning Superior Donuts sign.  John Gibilisco’s sound strongly supported the story and Lindsey Pape’s costumes were an excellent fit (no pun intended) for the characters.

The pacing and cue pickups needed a bit of tightening, but it truly was a pleasant night of theatre with a show that has a lot of heart and soul and teaches the importance of friendship and simply being alive.

Superior Donuts plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 4.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language, the play is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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