BOTTOM LINE: Steppenwolf comes back to Broadway with a very entertaining comedy-drama with a whole lot of heart.
Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner, Tracy Letts, returns to Broadway with his latest play, Superior Donuts, which recently played to rave reviews at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater. Letts took The Great White Way by storm last year with his extremely successful play August: Osage County. In Donuts, he presents a much lighter look at the struggles of American life. His new work is actually quite funny and, for the most part, feels more like a sitcom than an O'Neill drama (as August did). I know that everyone will ultimately be comparing Donuts to August, which is normal after such a monster success, but if you look at the play strictly on its own merits, it's pretty damn good all by itself.
Superior Donuts tells the story of Arthur Przybyszewski (Michael McKean) who owns a decrepit donut shop in uptown Chicago. He takes on a young employee (John Michael Hill) who has big plans to improve the shop and write the next great American novel. Throw in a kooky old lady Jane Alderman) who frequents the donut shop, a Russian DVD store owner (Yasen Peyankov) who wants to buy Arthur's shop so he can crate an electronics superstore, a shylark (Robert Maffia) who will stop at nothing to collect an outstanding debt, a trekkie cop (James Vincent Meredith), and a local female cop (Kate Buddeke) with more than a professional interest in Arthur and you have the ingredients for Superior Donuts.
So, is Superior Donuts a perfect play? No. But is it a really good play? Most definitely. It's about regret, facing your demons from the past, looking to the future and the power of love and friendship. It is not the "theatrical experience" that was August: Osage County but did anyone really expect it to be? On some levels, I think it trumps August. The comedy is much smoother and more natural and, let's face it, better than the laughs in August and yet it still has some really great moments of brevity and drama as well. It's a very solid play that might even be considered great if came from any other playwright.
There are some truly terrific performances that make Superior Donuts such an enjoyable night at the theatre. Michael McKean anchors the story as the put-upon Arthur with great heart and subtly. It is really a pleasure to watch him work. His performance is effortless and he completely transforms himself into a defeated hippie who finds new hope and direction for his life. McKean is a gifted character actor who you will know from his extensive film and television experience which includes: Laverne and Shirley, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, This is Spinal Tap, and my personal favorite his kick ass portrayal of Mr. Green in the movie Clue. While not as famous as Mr. McKean, John Michael Hill nearly steals the show as the fast talking, quick witted Franco Wicks. Hill is most certainly someone to watch in the future and his performance is quite possibly one of the funniest things you will see this season.
I really enjoyed Superior Donuts. It made me laugh and it was pretty moving as well. That's really what I'm looking for in a night at the theatre so I can't complain too much. At just over two hours, it's not the three-plus-hour tour that was August: Osage County, so don't be scared. It also is surprisingly tame for a Tracy Lett's play. If it were made into a film, I'd say it would be rated PG-13. But that's not to say it lacks surprise and punch. There were two very audible gasps from the audience the evening I saw the show. So do with that what you will. I think there is something that everyone can identify with in Superior Donuts. It is about the "American Experience" and the stumbling blocks we face on the road to happiness. If you are looking for a good play by a great contemporary American playwright, Superior Donuts might just be what you are looking for.
(Superior Donuts plays at The Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street. Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm. The show runs two hours and fifteen minutes, which includes a fifteen minute intermission. Tickets are $76.50-$116.50. Student rush tickets are available for $29.50 at the box office the day of the show. For tickets visit www.telecharge.com or visit http://www.broadwaysbestshows.com/shows/superiordonuts/index.php for more information)