Being a straddler of high and low arts (where culture and kitsch meet – one of the taglines for The Looseleaf Report cable TV show, which died an ignominious death when the city of Los Angeles pulled the plug on Public Access in December 2008), The Leaf is not loathe to admit that she absolutely adores donuts, any Lifetime television movie starring Gary Cole, and getting a few laughs from a night in the theater. In this case, it’s Superior Donuts by Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winner Tracy Letts. Okay, full disclosure: The Leaf didn’t care for Letts’ epic August: Osage County, which snagged said awards in 2008, so she was more than pleasantly surprised to chuckle and contemplate a fine ensemble cast assaying Letts’ deftly written dialogue at The Geffen Playhouse (through July 10), all handily directed by Randall Arney.
Turns out that there’s more to this junk food than meets the glazed eye.
Indeed. Aging hippie/boomer Arthur Przybyszewski (Cole, playing up the laid-back pot-smoking schtickster with lackadaisical charm and conviction, bad ponytail aside), has been running his family shop, Superior Donuts, for years in an iffy Chicago neighborhood. Soon, though, Arthur’s hum-drum life will be upended when a young Black dude, Franco Wicks (the über-impressive Edi Gathegi), asks for a job after the donuteria has been vandalized.
Cool; now bring on the crullers.
We also learn that Arthur’s a loner (he speaks of his past – a dead ex-wife, a daughter he hasn’t seen in years and the defining moment of his life, splitting for Canada to avoid being shipped off to Nam – in monologues addressing the audience), while Franco’s past saw him writing, what else – the Great American Novel.
And what would a duh-duh-donut shop be without cops (Mary Beth Fisher, Damon Gupton), a few more regulars (Ron Bottitta’s Russian businessman next door, Kathryn Joosten’s winning alcoholic bag lady), lots of coffee and all that glorious junk food. (An aside: What happened to Krispy Kreme? The Southern-based chain made such a splash in L.A. over a decade ago and then seemed to disappear…). Whatever. It’s the midwest, it’s snowing (John Arnone’s fantastic set design is worthy of Edward Hopper) and Franco, young and still filled with unmitigated hope, has a back story replete with gambling debts, albeit unbeknownst to Arthur. What Arthur does know is that after reading Franco’s tome, America Will Be, he’s mightily impressed.
Unlikely comrades, Arthur and Franco fit together like a worn pair of, well, Earth shoes, as theirs looks to be the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. But debts must be paid, fingers will be chopped off, and an extended fight scene, played for laughs and cringes in a balletic Sopranos kind of way, ensues.
Edward Hopper’s Automat
Will Arthur break out of his shell? Will Franco’s book serve as some sort of redemption? Will Superior Donuts still pack an artery-hardening sugary punch? Do we care? Yes, yes and yes.
Make mine jelly, puhleeze.