If you’ve seen playwright Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, you might expect Superior Donuts, playing through Aug. 2 at Theatre on the Square, to be equally intense. However, although this is about courage, racism, and other serious subjects, it is also a feel-good piece about friendship, love, and second chances, with a little mystery to solve thrown in for fun. You want to eat one donut afterwards. You don’t want to eat a dozen.
Director Ron Spencer is Arthur Przybyszewski, the aging Polish-American owner of a coffee and donuts place in Chicago that has been in his family for decades. When the play opens, the shop has just been vandalized but not robbed. Arthur hasn’t been opening the store every day lately but Max Tarasov (Jim Lucas), the owner of a nearby movie rental store noticed the broken window and called the police. Russian immigrant Max would like to buy Arthur’s shop to expand his business empire. One of the Irish-American police officers that comes to investigate the crime, Randy Osteen (Bridget Schlebecker), would like to date Arthur. Semi-homeless customer Lady Boyle (Jean Adams) just wants her usual.
A young African-American man named Franco Wicks (Daniel Martin) walks into the middle of these conversations, answering the “Help Wanted” sign in the (now broken) window. He is from the neighborhood too, and is “taking a break” from college. Franco has big ideas for what Arthur could be doing to compete more effectively with the new Starbucks across the street.
We learn about Arthur’s “politics are personal” history through a series of monologues, which Spencer nails. But the show truly sparkles during the feisty interactions between Arthur and Franco. Martin’s work was new to me. What a delight! Experiencing Spencer and Martin on stage together is a special treat.
For the most part, the supporting cast is strong, too. Jim Lucas, for example, gives one of the most effective portrayals I’ve ever seen from him.
I took away one of the five possible stars because even though the fight scene choreographed by Eric Bryant was clever and had interesting special effects, ultimately it didn’t quite work for me. Also, although everything else eventually got cleaned up or repaired after the break-in and the shop was back open for business, the hole in the window never got even a piece of cardboard taped over it, and yet I was supposed to believe there was snow on the ground outside it. This discrepancy kept distracting me from the truth in the story.
But I put half a star back because this is such a perfectly chosen play for this point in both Spencer’s life and the life of Theatre on the Square, the company he started back in 1988. At one point in this show, Arthur shouts at Franco, “Dreams are dangerous!” Spencer must have felt some of that fear himself along the way. Spencer will move to Mexico after this show and TOTS staff, board, and audience members will miss him very much, but we will all adjust, just like the characters in this show have to adjust to the changes in their lives.
“This is Ron’s last show in Indianapolis.” I get why theaters say things like this, but really, any show could be an actor’s (or audience member’s) last. If you love Spencer’s kindness and talent, as I do, than yes, you should definitely see him in this showcase. But if somehow you’ve never heard of Ron Spencer or been to Theatre on the Square, this show is a good introduction.