Superior Donuts: superior production

Ensemble Theatre Company is producing Superior Donuts at the Jericho Arts Centre

You want to see these guys perform together. You really do. (Photo of David Nykl and Chris Francisque by Zemekiss Photography)

Superior Donuts is delicious.

Set in 2008, Tracy Letts’s script is about the friendship between Arthur Przybyszewski, a white, second-generation Polish-American guy who runs a donut shop in the Uptown neighbourhood of Chicago, and Franco Wicks, an ebullient young black man who shows up very eager for a job and immediately starts recommending poetry nights and healthy menu options.

“That’s what friends do, right?” Franco asks once he’s working in the shop. “They share their stories.” But both of these guys have secrets. A draft dodger and an absent father to a teenage girl, Arthur sees himself as a coward. Franco’s secret is revealed — too conveniently — late in Act 1 to drive the plot.

There are other structural problems: Arthur’s monologues about his failed marriage feel like clunky delivery vehicles for mostly unnecessary information and Act 2 rushes clumsily to its conclusion.

But I don’t care — because Superior Donuts is so vivacious and so tender.

Chris Francisque is ridiculously charismatic as Franco, spinning out the character’s quips without losing his emotional centre for a second. The combination of truth and timing is impressive. And David Nykl matches Francisque step for step as Arthur — always hangdog but never a drag. Nykl’s performance is so thorough it’s like you can smell Arthur’s socks.

Steve James also contributes a hilarious — and roughly energetic — turn as Max Tarasov, the Russian guy who owns the DVD store next to the donut shop. In a script that’s loaded with winners, Max gets some of the best lines, including my favourite: “He stuck his finger up the wrong asshole!”

Director Keltie Forsyth sets exactly the right tone of sincerity and buoyancy and gets impressively consistent performances from her cast. Ariel Slack’s minimalist set works well and Rick Colhoun’s sound design, which borrows from a lot of period pop songs, enhances the script’s sweet melancholy.

Importantly, the story of Superior Donuts plays out in the context of black/white relations in the States. Arthur and Franco’s racial difference amplifies the beauty and difficulty involved in creating and sustaining all friendships. And, especially with Donald Trump deliberately stoking racial hatred in the US, their love for one another bears crucial witness to our capacity for being better humans. In the play, Letts references African-American poet Langston Hughes, who wrote, “America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath — America will be!”

SUPERIOR DONUTS By Tracy Letts. Directed by Keltie Forsythe. An Ensemble Theatre Company production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, July 19. Continues as part of Ensemble Theatre Company’s 7thAnnual Repertory Festival until August 16.Tickets.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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