With his charming play Superior Donuts, playwright Tracy Letts captures the insular pocket of a poor neighborhood in Chicago and populates it with a handful of fascinating characters. There’s nothing especially groundbreaking or surprising about this slightly predictable play, but its quirky and likeable characters are well worth spending a couple of hours with in the cozy dark of the Geffen Playhouse.
Review by Pauline Adamek
Gary Cole plays Arthur, a scruffy, aging hippy type (all long pony tail, floppy fleece overcoat and torn jeans) who runs a little neighborhood coffee and donut shop called Superior Donuts. The play opens after his place has been broken into and an ugly slur graffitied on the wall. The cops James (Damon Gupton) and Randy (Mary Beth Fisher) are there making a report. The local homeless lady “Lady” (Kathryn Joosten) pops in as per her routine, unfazed by the disarray. The next-door business owner, an opinionated Russian named Max (Ron Bottitta) is adding his two cents, mouthing off about the gang activity in the neighborhood. All of a sudden a new character shows up at Arthur’s cafe. A lanky young black kid, Franco (Edi Gathegi) needs a job – any job. Pretty soon he’s trying to liven up the sleepy little donut shop with his schemes (“Let’s hold a poetry slam!”) and suggests various ideas to improve the business. He even, in a hilarious motor-mouth rant, turns his sights on improving his new boss. But when a couple of shady tough guys (Paul Dillon and Matt McTighe) show up looking for Franco, we learn the young man is in deep trouble. Tracy Letts’ play is good but fairly predictable. While the characters are interesting and all well-formed, far and away the best thing about Superior Donuts is the character of the enthusiastic kid. Gathegi gives an electric performance that, appropriately, livens up the stage and scene, galvanizing Arthur into action. This is a flawless performance from a talented young actor where every note, beat, gesture and choice is perfect. Strangely, Gathegi is almost completely absent from Act Two, when events turn darker, and this returns our focus to Arthur as he puts a plan into place. A highlight of the play is an almost funny knock down, drag out fist-fight sequence that, rather than being violent or slick is actually quite wheezy. A sweet play, Superior Donuts runs until Sunday, July 10, 2011.
Superior Donuts Geffen Playhouse 10866 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Runs until Sunday, July 10, 2011 Tue.-Fri, 8 p.m.; Sat., 3pm and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2pm and 7 p.m. Running time: Approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Tickets: are $45-75.00, plus booking charges. Box Office: Purchase here or call the box office on (310) 208-5454
ABOUT THE GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE The Geffen Playhouse has been a hub of the Los Angeles theater scene since opening its doors in 1995. Noted for its intimacy and celebrated for its world-renowned mix of classic and contemporary plays, provocative new works and musicals, the Geffen Playhouse continues to present a body of work that has garnered national recognition. Named in honor of entertainment mogul and philanthropist David Geffen, who made the initial donation to the theater, the company is helmed by Producing Director and President of the Board Gilbert Cates, Artistic Director Randall Arney, Managing Director Ken Novice and Chairman of the Board Frank Mancuso. Proudly associated with UCLA, the Geffen Playhouse welcomes an audience of more than 130,000 each year, and maintains an extensive education and outreach program, designed to engage young people and the community at large in the arts. For more information, please visit their official site.