Written by Tony Award-winner Tracy Letts, Superior Donuts refuses to shy away from challenging topics such as addiction, divorce, and estrangement, while retaining light-hearted humour and relatability. Now brought to the Players’ Theatre stage, the student rendition of the Broadway drama successfully captures the emotional exhaustion of its characters.
Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and other corporate giants are running independently owned small businesses into the ground, according to Superior Donuts owner Arthur Przybyszewski (Jonathan Vanderzon). After inheriting the small donut shop from his Polish immigrant parents, Arthur struggles to keep the business afloat in modern day Uptown, Chicago. Aside from a few loyal customers, the quiet cafe is visibly disintegrating—both physically and financially.
The plot focuses on the relationship between Arthur and his newest employee, Franco Wicks (Sory Ibrahim Kaboré). As the two struggle to maintain a balance between Arthur’s reluctance to update the shop and Franco’s modern suggestions,the number of troubling secrets kept between the two men are gradually revealed.
In playing Max Tarasov, Filip Rakic maintains a precise and authentic Russian accent—giving credit to his Slavic upbringing. Providing comic relief during the play’s more troubling scenes, Max manages to bring humour and laughter to otherwise dark themes. Despite suffering from alcoholism and facing financial disparity, Max maintains a positive outlook on the feasibility of the American Dream as a Russian immigrant.
Vanderzon’s embodiment of a middle-aged man frozen in his comfort zone is captivating. Arthur directly addresses the audience on numerous occasions to deliver soliloquies about his history of draft-evasion during the Vietnam War, troubled family relationships, and a broken marriage. These excerpts from his life are haunting, tainted with a regret that remains disappointingly unresolved as the show ends.
Director Clay Walsh and his team of over twenty-five must be applauded for their dedication; their commitment to creating such a compelling show is evident.
“We’ve all grown a lot through the process,” said Francesca Scotti-Goetz, who plays Officer Randy Osteen.
The play’s primary flaw occurred during its climax. Following the vicious actions of Italian mobster Luther Flynn (Thomas Fix), an uncomfortable brawl between Arthur and Luther concerning financial debts felt overly dramatic and poorly executed. The sound effects—such as clicking tongues to imitate the sound of a punch to the jaw—felt amateur alongside exaggerated fake punches, marring the otherwise mature account of Arthur’s life.
While desperately gripping the past, Arthur struggles to overcome regret and look towards life beyond his parent’s run-down donut shop. “Dreaming is dangerous,” yells Arthur as he delivers a heartbreaking conclusion to an anger-fuelled disagreement with Franco. Arthur’s refusal to allow Franco to assist in modernizing the shop—and ultimately his outlook on life—is the central conundrum of the play. Superior Donuts uses Arthur and Franco’s conflicting points of views to exemplify the difficulties of abandoning one’s normality to keep up with the rapidly changing world.
Superior Donuts is playing at Players’ Theatre from Jan. 18-21 and Jan. 25-28 from 8-10 p.m. Tickets are $6 for students and $10 general.