Great plays tell the stories of interesting and compelling characters in ways that make audiences work toward understanding, while helping enlighten and possibly even change audience ideas. Those characters may intertwine in unexpected ways, helping to bring out the stories they each have to tell. Sometimes great plays make audiences laugh and cry. SUPERIOR DONUTS by Tracy Letts, currently playing at Stagecrafters in Chestnut Hill, does all of the above.
Set in Chicago, Superior Donuts is a struggling shop in a struggling neighborhood. The show opens with police investigating a break-in at the donut shop. They are speaking with a man who is overwrought and unexpectedly, not the owner of the shop, but rather a neighbor. Lady, with her shopping cart, enters and is well-known by all. She wants some food and coffee, as do they all. Eventually the owner comes in and is nonplussed about the break-in, takes it in his stride and begins to clean up. It is revealed that there is a Starbucks across the street, in competition with the donut shop, as they all resort to getting coffee there, since the owner has no food or drink to offer.
Characters reveal themselves as Max Tarasov (T.J. DeLuca) from the neighboring store, who is an excitable immigrant from Russia. The investigating officers from the neighborhood, James (Kyle Paul Dandridge) and Randy (Catherine Pappas) who show their kindness through their interactions with the neighborhood folks, but mostly their kindness toward Lady Boyle (Marilyn Leah) the shopping cart woman. Arthur Przbyszewski (John Devennie) is the underwhelmed, pothead, Grateful Dead fan, enigmatic, owner of Superior Donuts. Finally in the good guy column is Franco Wicks (Devin Oliver) who is the energetic, fast talking, youthful, job seeker who smooth-talks his way into employment at Superior Donuts. Characters build relationships within the show, clearly tell their individual stories, the overall story, and present an ensemble of note.
Oliver is the game changer in the production. His character, delivered with ease, confidence, likability, and depth, makes the audience want to watch his interactions with all of the others. His character is working on the ‘Great American Novel’ and is the Yang to Devennie’s Yin. Oliver brings the sunshine to the stage, while Devennie casts the shadows. They complement one another to the point of completing each other. Their chemistry on stage is natural and absorbing. When they fight, it is as if one is watching an old married couple have a row. Making up, while making the world a better place for each other and the onlookers, is the only acceptable outcome. When they are happy, the world is happier and when they are not, everyone around them has a need to make it better.
Devennie brings a unique trait to the stage, relaxation. His character is outwardly unperturbed, and also unable to open up to the others on stage. Arthur monologues to let the audience peer through the cloud of smoke he builds around himself at his weaknesses, cloak of cowardice and heady history. Devennie delivers during the deepening of relationships and the building of audience empathy. His tension is well placed and scantily used, but his strength surprises. Believable and likable, Devennie breathes real life into Arthur.
DeLuca’s character Max shows the least growth, but as an actor he provides an accomplished accent, complete with speaking Russian. Max has the clearest desires and yet DeLuca presents an intricately drawn character. Greg Pronko plays the small sidekick role to DeLuca as Kiril Ivakin, who also impressively speaks Russian.
Providing the cast with the darkest moments, eliciting curtain call boos from an obviously moved audience, are Luther Flynn (M. Tamin Yurcaba) and Kevin Magee (Patrick Martin). Yurcaba plays his role with what might be unexpected variations in this type of role, and then expected and not disappointing intensity.
The stage size and decoration along with the set are used well by the director, Jane Toczek. Characters fill the space while also reflecting back the desolation of their interior infrastructure. Direction of this piece is delicate and unobtrusive. Allowing the characters and their building and changing relationships to shine through, Toczek admirably brings this piece to life. For those in the mood for good theater, this is not to be missed. Local talent is strong and the space lends itself very well to the one set mode of the show. Bring a few tissues and have a dozen donuts waiting at home.
by Tracy Letts
Directed by Jane Toczek
September 13-29, 2013
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM
Sundays at 2 PM
8130 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118