Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tracy Letts's "Superior Donuts"

Highly entertained and moved by the magnificent vitriol of August: Osage County, I was looking forward to Tracy Letts's latest play. Superior Donuts, playing at The Music Box, was disappointing. The plotting and characters seemed to have come out of an extended TV episode. The writing, sprinkled with punchy one-liners, was as funny as a superior sitcom.

Arthur Przybyszewski, the owner of a donut shop in uptown Chicago, evaded life and love until Franco Wicks, a young aspiring black writer who worked for him, changed him, and Arthur stood up for Franco and himself. He did so in a long fight sequence that was painful to watch because it was so bad. This was not the only mistake made by director Tina Landau. Another, more minor but telling, was the inconsistent behavior of the characters to winter in Chicago, as TH pointed out to me. The last scene compounded poor writing and directing. The characters made their excuses, one by one, to leave the shop, so as to leave Arthur with Franco for their final heart-to-heart. Langston Hughes was duly re-invoked, in the title of Franco's destroyed manuscript: America Will Be.

Michael McKean played Arthur with a slumbering numbness, which might be right for his character, but not very interesting to watch. His many soliloquies about his past broke up the pace of the action, instead of giving painful perspective. Jon Michael Hill (Franco) was funny and moving in places, but went in and out of character. None of the other characters was completely believeable. Or to put it another way, they were too much of a type. The ambitious Russian immigrant. The tough woman cop who falls in love. The Trekkie. The baddie and his henchman. The bag lady who dispenses wisdom about life. It's sad.

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