In the program notes for the Canadian premiere of Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts, adapted by the folks at Coal Mine Theatre with an irresistible gusto that I’ll sketch out below, Dr. David Bentley begins with a quote by Letts about the play that captures the essence of what we’re about to witness: “Audiences are … hungry to experience joy in the theatre. This play supplies it.”
The story follows the friendship between Arthur Przybyszewski (Robert Persichini), a middle-aged sad sack donut shop owner looking to refresh his life, and Franco Wicks (Nabil Rajo), a young black man who answers Przybyszewski’s “Help Wanted” sign on the door.
Their relationship and Superior Donuts as a whole are meant to remind you that you are both capable and allowed to feel hope and joy. Letts conveys this by unleashing streams of rapid-fire, sitcom-style jokes, and by having his nine characters risk their egos by reaching out to others, enduring vulnerability, and being rewarded, not with their wildest dreams, but with love, a bit of help, or simple company with someone able to offer their full attention. Coal Mine Theatre, Letts and the CBS sitcom, are in no uncertain terms attempting to restore faith in humanity through drama, a goal that puts the onus on the actors to assume ownership of such a mission.
In the case of this production, director Ted Dykstra and the cast take advantage of the pessimism hanging over the heads of many who follow the 45th president’s tantrums down south by upsetting it with kindness and generosity of spirit – where we’re told to not expect it.
Franco’s fearlessness toward whatever the world hurls at him is its own renewable energy source. Rajo’s performance uplifts on an industrial scale with unending positivity and self-confidence that rubs off on you as you exit Coal Mine’s cozy quarters.
Arthur plays foil to him by giving into fear and self-consciousness as a matter of course. The self-propelling it takes for his need to let people into his life overcome these defeatist feelings is restorative, in the sense that he shows despair to be no match for getting to know someone.
The rest of the cast—mostly notably Alex Poch-Goldin as businessman Max Tarasov, and Darla Biccum and Michael Blake as partner police officers Randy Osteen and James Bailey—pair heart, genuineness and empathy, with varying degrees of anxiety they are less than adept at coping with, to the point that you may want to say hello as much as cross the street if you saw one walking your way. You’ve met a version of each of them somewhere at some point. A quick nod as well to fight director Simon Fon for his heart-racing, space-conscious work, and to costume designer Anna Treusch for her elevation of normality to an aesthetic.
Superior Donuts rises to the challenge of an audience being there to be made to feel. It’s another Toronto indie theatre hit.
Superior Donuts runs until Feb. 26 at the Coal Mine Theatre. For more information, visit http://www.coalminetheatre.com/