There are sparks flying at the ole firehouse with Fells Point Corner Theatre's production of "Superior Donuts" by Tracy Letts. Pulitzer Prize winner author, Tracy Letts, most known for his epic drama, "August: Osage County," decided to write something lighter with a sense of fun after his award winning play. "Superior Donuts" delivers both and the quirky cast will have you laughing out loud.
Arthur Przybyszewski, played convincingly by Phil Gallagher, is an almost 60, Vietnam draft dodger, pony tailed down on life divorced father of one whose outlook on life has come to this personal philosophy: "You know what life is, derailment." He runs his family's failing donut business in an aging, struggling Chicago neighborhood now occupied by drug dealers, acts of violence, and Starbucks. Arthur is a quiet, humble man who still defends his choice to evade the draft and still deals with the label "coward" that accompanies his every day life. He smokes his share of weed on the job and, as we meet him, doesn't even show up for work regularly to open the donut shop.
A mixed bag of neighborhood characters visits the tired donut shop. Max Tarasov, the Russian businessman who is building a retail empire on either side of Arthur's donut shop, is played by Jeff Murray whose Russian accent never fails and in speaking to his Russian employee, Kiril Ivakin, played by Denys Petrov, seems to be really speaking the language. The local cops stop by, too. Officer Randy Osteen, played by Lynda McClary, and Officer James Bailey, played by William Walker, keep an eye on Arthur. Officer Randy has a little crush on Arthur and tries to ask him out on a date without actually asking him out on a date. Arthur is clueless and her efforts are lost, but Lynda McClary has captured that awkward moment in dating so authentically that you squirm in your skin as you watch her squirm in hers.
Into Arthur's lifeless life sprints Franco Wicks, a young, smart, black, 20-something man who applies for the job advertised by Arthur. Franco is played by Christopher Jones who lights up the stage from the moment he arrives. Franco is full of ideas, a young entrepreneur with an optimism that is overwhelming for Arthur. He hires Franco Wicks despite his misgivings and spends the following work days arguing over improvements to the donut shop and general resistance to all of Franco's ideas. Their relationship evolves, however, and soon they share more about their lives outside the donut shop. Franco has written a book and shyly allows Arthur to read it. It is his great American novel and he is confident that it can be published. And the audience is confident that Franco can accomplish anything.
As time goes by, though, we see the darker side of Franco's life. He's in debt to a loan shark in the neighborhood and cannot cover his losses. Jones ably shifts from a man of a million ideas to a 20-year-old scared kid. The shift is so well done that you move up a bit to The Edge of your seat to watch what happens next.
"Superior Donuts" is an uplifting play with witty dialogue that keeps you engaged until the end. With a delicate touch, it covers themes of relationships, old wounds, the upending Vietnam War era, racial issues, youth, and aging resignation in ways that are funny, endearing and captivating. Ultimately, "Superior Donuts" is about family - those people who have an interest in seeing you survive this life.
"Superior Donuts" runs through February 10 at Fells Point Corner Theatre (www.fpct.org).