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Dramatizing the Ordinary: Superior Donuts at Capital Rep, Review

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Superior Donuts, Capital Repertory Theatre, Review

Life, Love, Dreams and Donuts: Superior Donuts at Capital Rep

Superior Donuts: Franco Wicks (Brooks Brantly) and shop owner Arthur Przybyszewski (George Tynan Crowley) share the bad taste of failure in donut making.Most people have big dreams, especially those who immigrate to the United States. Well, not the Polish, according to Arthur Przybyszewski. His father opened a donut shop in Uptown Chicago, selling the fried treats with a sort of expectation of failure. But Arthur, after his parents’ deaths, maintains the shop with dignity, keeping every practice precisely the same. Even upping the prices to suit the changing economy was a tragedy. Twenty-five cents for a cup of coffee and unlimited refills rose to 75 cents, for shame. Tracy Letts’ play Superior Donuts follows Arthur’s adjustment to change as a revolutionary walks through his front door looking for a job. Superior Donuts is enjoying its regional premiere at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany through October 16. The play is directed by Mark Fleischer.

The show opens on a ransacked donut shop. Two cops, Officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey, are questioning Max Tarasov, the owner of the neighboring shop who made the call. A nosy, conniving, and very racist Russian, Max is no help. Arthur arrives and seems only slightly miffed, gruffly brushing it off. He is a private person who simply wants to run his successful donut shop.

The following weeks include romantic interest from the lady cop, Randy, to which Arthur is completely oblivious, and a new employee in the shop: the witty and ambitious twenty-one-year-old black man Franco Wicks. Franco is a revolutionary who unabashedly suggests changes to the shop and Arthur’s own appearance. “Arthur P” (as Franco calls him) bristles at the propositions, but respects the young man because of the substantial and well-written personal novel Franco allowed him to read. Arthur is passionate about Franco’s success as a writer but still has trouble opening up about his own life. When Franco confronts him, he stonewalls, reducing him to just an employee, rather than a friend. After one fight, it seems almost too late to correct the problem.

Superior Donuts: Arthur Przybyszewski (George Tynan Crowley) Superior Donuts shop owner, steals a toke as perspective employee Franco Wicks (Brooks Brantly) checks out the menu. Customer Lady Boyle (Roseann Cane) looks on.We learn about Arthur’s life through his soliloquies. From the back story of the Chicago riots and his father’s disappointment in him to his recently-deceased ex-wife and child whom he hasn’t seen in seven years, he has his share of problems. Franco’s shady past catches up to him when he is assaulted for money he owes. The two are forced to live in the present and recover from their hardships.

One of the great things about Superior Donuts is the sincerity of Arthur’s soliloquies and the historical accuracy. Beneath the surface lies a very pertinent story about freedom in America which is made clear through racial assumptions, territories, and personalities. The set, designed by Ken Goldstein, adds a deliciously old-fashioned feeling; you might think you were back in the 50s if the characters weren’t talking about laptops and cellphones. Goldstein’s attention to detail gives us frosted windows for the winter air, napkin holders for each table, a street view out the front door that adds so much depth, and more delights.

The weakest point of the show was a fight scene between Arthur and the man who had Franco assaulted. It may have initially been plot-related, but because the choreography is minimal and unrealistic, the event turns from dramatic to comical. Two aged men grappling with and taking cheap shots at one another seemed out of place in the show. I understand Arthur was mad, but a physical fight added nothing to the play.

Superior Donuts: Max Tarasov (Yury Tsykun) and Lady Boyle (Roseann Cane) share a moment of sweet victory while Officer Bailey (Phil McGlaston) and Officer Osteen (Lee Roy Rogers) look on.Aside from the awkward fight, the spectacular acting made the 2-and-a-half-hour show fly. Yury Tsykun’s Max was the perfect sleazy neighbor, the one for which you feel an unsettling dislike. Lee Roy Rodgers made a cute Randy paired with oblivious and nerdy James, played by Phil McGlaston.

George Tynan Crowley as Arthur is captivating and layered. I was instantly curious. At the same time, he’s cool in the way a 10-year-old things her dad is cool because he listens to rock instead of folk oldies (but it’s still old rock). I fell in love with Brooks Brantly’s Franco. His comedic timing is precise and his expressions are bold. He’s both charming and clever. The two make a smashing pair: the dream-denier and the perfectionist, the defeatist and the champion.

Superior Donuts has two major themes that make it a painfully accurate account of real lives. First, the idea of keeping an old local business afloat when chain alternatives are open only solidifies the truth that Arthur’s traditional ways are being left behind. He’s a local donut shop competing against Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

But the play is really about learning to pick yourself back up. Even the most optimistic person has his limit and reaches that low. All the life seemed to drain from Franco after he was attacked, and sometimes you just need a friend. When Franco is absolutely devastated, unrecognizably lifeless, Arthur learns to hope for him and hope for the present. A modern tale of unlikely friendship and revitalization, Superior Donuts is a subdued but familiar story.

Superior Donuts is playing at Capital Repertory Theatre through October 16. Written by Tracy Letts. Directed by Mark Fleischer. Ticket prices vary. Visit for more info.

Kate Smith is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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