Monday, November 2, 2009

Superior Donuts -- TV on Broadway

I’ve seen this show dozens of times before. Not this particular play by Tracy Letts, but many, many similarly themed, formulaic comedies with their familiar characters and predictable outcomes. This one is mildly entertaining in parts, in a sitcom sort of way.

The tried and true plot features a white disaffected aging hippie (will writers ever retire this character?) and the gifted, smart aleck young black man who comes to work for him. Bet you can guess what happens. A bond develops between them and the old guy becomes human and the young one benefits from his help. Ever heard that story before?

Michael McKean (in photo right) and Jon Michael Hill (left) do a good job with their characters, stereotypical though they be. McKean is Arthur Przybyszewski, a 60-something former draft dodger who runs a donut shop started by his Polish immigrant father in a rundown, but slowly upgrading, part of Chicago. Hill is Franco Wicks, the 21-year-old dreamer who comes to work for him and who just happens to carry around an unpublished, handwritten first novel, which, you guessed it, is beautifully written and ripe for publishing.

An assortment of TV-type characters swirl in and out of the shop. One of these is Lady Boyle (Jane Alderman). After one of her visits it was mentioned that she was homeless. I was stunned. With her gorgeous porcelain skin she could be a model for Lancome ads. In Ana Kuzmanic’s costume, a large tweed coat, she resembled the oversized chic look favored by the Olsen twins. When she gestures -- excessively -- she displays smooth, fine-boned hands that don’t look as if they’ve ever done a dish, much less survive the harsh Chicago winter we see through the windows. I thought, Homeless?” She looked more like a Park Avenue eccentric on her way to a lecture at the Met.

Two others who stretch credibility are the loan shark, Luther Flynn (Robert Maffia), and his thug, Kevin Magee (Cliff Chamberlain). When they’re displeased with someone they call him a douche bag. This is coming from violent men who are merciless to anyone who gets on their wrong side, yet they talk like eighth grade boys.

The most obnoxious character is Max Tarasov (Yasen Peyankov), a Russian immigrant who owns an appliance shop next door. He’s a busybody with a thick accent who resembles the most annoying of TV sitcom characters.

Kate Buddeke is likable as Officer Randy Osteen, a beat cop who has a crush on Arthur. Arthur, of course, also happens to be smitten with her, but they’re both too shy to do anything about it. You know how this works out -- a little nudging from Franco and they’re dating happily.

This is Letts' first play produced since he won a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County. Don’t look for lightening to strike twice with this one, which had its world premiere last year with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Both were directed by Tina Landau and feature the same casts.

James Schuette did an excellent job with the set, a luncheon counter with those stools we all liked to spin around on when we were children. Windows look out onto the bleak Chicago street, which really looks cold and snowy. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting is effective, as is Rick Sordelet’s fight direction.

Tickets for Superior Donuts can be purchased at Music Theatre box office, 239 W. 45th St., through or by calling (212) 239-6200.

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