By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Horizon Theatre has a fine cast for Tracy Letts’ play “Superior Donuts,” running through March 27.  Mr. Letts’ titanic 2008 Pulitzer-Tony-winning “August: Osage County” is, of course, his most acclaimed work to date; and I suppose the downside of having written a knockout hit is that people almost always want to compare it with the rest of a playwright’s work.

But it’s a pointless exercise.  “Superior Donuts,” written as a valentine to his adopted hometown of Chicago (according to the program notes), stands quite well on its own.

Arthur Przybyszewski (wanna pronounce it?), played by Chris Kayser, is a 60-year-old ex-hippie running a coffee and donut shop in Chicago’s Uptown.  Arthur is spinning his wheels, mired in inertia, and when there’s a break-in at his shop, he’s pretty ho-hum about it all.  He reminds me of Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret” when she sings “So What.”  He has definitely settled; but even as he smokes his morning joint, you feel that here’s a man with a lot of might-have-beens in his life, and he knows it.

Into his life pops a 21-year-old African-American man named Franco Wicks (Eric J. Little).  Franco needs a job, but he is bubbling with energy and ideas—for example, he has a list of much-needed improvements for Superior Donuts, especially if it’s going to compete with the Starbucks universe.  Franco has the glory and power and magnetism of  youth on his side, and soon the crusty old draft-dodger Arthur succumbs to Franco’s zest.  Their repartee is great fun for the audience.

But there’s more:  Franco has written a novel which he is certain will be The Great American Novel, and he asks Arthur to read it.  He does, and he’s astonished at how good it is and tells Franco, who is over the moon.  There’s an ominous note at this point, however:  Franco owes money to some shady characters (played by Bryan Brendle and Alan Heckner) and Chicago is, after all, the “city of the big shoulders,” as Carl Sandburg said.  There are shocking repercussions; enough said.

About the fine cast I mentioned: Lala Cochran is excellent as a police officer who’s fond of Arthur; Bart Hansard plays an ambitious Russian who owns a DVD store next door; Nita Hardy plays Lady Boyle, a “street person,” and Ms. Hardy is spot-on.  Neal Hazard and Sean Michael Moreno complete this very strong ensemble:  no weak links here.  Incidentally, I’d love to see Mr. Brendle play a character unafraid to show a tender, vulnerable side.  I’m sure he’s played such roles, but lately he seems to have a patent on tough, dangerous men, whom he plays very well indeed.

Mr. Kayser and Mr. Little basically own the evening.  It’s nice to see the legendary Mr. Kayser play a character of such passivity; but this actor can play anything.  I think that the dynamic Mr. Little has a stunning future; he’s the real thing.  See him here before you have to pay Broadway-New York prices!

The playwright slows things down unnecessarily with Arthur’s monologues; but aside from that Director Jeff Adler guides us with a sure hand.  This is a play with people “proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning,” to quote Sandburg once more.  There are some real surprises here; I’d check them out.

For tickets and information, visit www.HorizonTheatre.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

6 replies on “Theatre Review: ‘Superior Donuts’ at Horizon Theatre”

  1. I saw this show last week and absolutely loved it!! I was expecting some low budget, po-dunk production and wow, was I ever wrong – the writing is incredible, the cast is so solid that it made me feel like I had met them all throughout the course of my life and that, somehow, they all came to play on this stage (which is a wonderful set design) – the directing was dead on and I got the feeling that the actors and actresses weren’t at all acting, but that they were just being (hell of alot better than what I see on TV these days). I actually caught myself liking some of the characters as people and hating the ones that reminded me of the a–holes I’ve known before. I laughed alot, was pleasantly surprised and at some points I was even a little afraid of what was going to happen next. This show had it all and I’m dying to see it again…only this time, I’m bringing some friends to brag about how I saw this first haha

  2. I saw this show last week and absolutely loved it!! I was expecting some low budget, po-dunk production and wow, was I ever wrong – the writing is incredible, the cast is so solid that it made me feel like I had met them all throughout the course of my life and that, somehow, they all came to play on this stage (which is a wonderful set design) – the directing was dead on and I got the feeling that the actors and actresses weren’t at all acting, but that they were just being (hell of alot better than what I see on TV these days). I actually caught myself liking some of the characters as people and hating the ones that reminded me of the a–holes I’ve known before. I laughed alot, was pleasantly surprised and at some points I was even a little afraid of what was going to happen next. This show had it all and I’m dying to see it again…only this time, I’m bringing some friends to brag about how I saw this first haha

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write, Mr. Bryant! It’s always fun when someone new discovers Horizon, a professional theatre tucked away in Little Five Points (now in our 27th year) and our terrific Atlanta theatre artists. Outstanding contemporary plays – funny and provocative stories of our times performed by top notch artistic ensembles. Thanks for buying local – hope you’ll help spread the word – 3 weeks left!!

  4. Thanks for taking the time to write, Mr. Bryant! It’s always fun when someone new discovers Horizon, a professional theatre tucked away in Little Five Points (now in our 27th year) and our terrific Atlanta theatre artists. Outstanding contemporary plays – funny and provocative stories of our times performed by top notch artistic ensembles. Thanks for buying local – hope you’ll help spread the word – 3 weeks left!!

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