Every once in awhile a production comes along that completely surprises you. A production that manages to transcend the ordinary and create something special. A production that concocts the perfect alchemist recipe of script, CAST AND CREW to create theatricAl Gold. Seattle Public Theater's current production of Tracy Letts' "Superior Donuts" is just such a production.
Letts' work is work is known for his hard hitting portrayals of flawed people and "Superior Donuts" is no exception. We join Arthur (Kevin McKeon), the proprietor of his family's Donut shop, on the morning after the shop has been ransacked. But Arthur, a weary and despondent former draft evader doesn't seem fazed by the break in. Enter Franko (Charles Norris), a fast talking would be novelist in search of a job and the unlikely pair develops a friendship that goes beyond employer and employee, no matter how much they deny it. But when Franko's past catches up with him, the friendship of these two as well as the other denizens of the neighborhood is put to the test.
It's difficult to describe the play itself without it coming across as cliché or run of the mill. But trust me; this simple premise combined with Letts' gift for crisp and cutting dialog propels the play far beyond cliché and into a realm of a sublime honesty. But much of the honesty for this production comes from director Russ Banham who not only assembled a superior (there's that word again) cast but also keeps the truth of the characters and the situation in check, allowing the script to shine through. There's not one ounce of extraneous set, staging, effects, or moments to get in the way of the story. And that is the sign of a great storyteller.
As I said, the cast is superior too. A gloriously tight ensemble who each take their moments (large or small) and create a kind of beauty from a bad situation, brilliantly led by McKeon and Norris. McKeon infuses his character with a subtle and quiet honesty that you cannot help but listen to every word. And it's that subtlety that only makes his more explosive moments all the more powerful. And Norris acts as the perfect counterpart for that quiet truth with his wise cracking bravado. Yes, he's much more verbose than McKeon but still retains the truth of the character.
The rest of the ensemble is equally real and honest and turn in some gorgeous moments. Jena Cane and TRoy Allen Johnson as the beat cops for the area, Randy and James, are wonderfully colorful additions to the world and Cane's flirty moments with McKeon are pure bliss. Alexander Samuels as the neighboring business owner Max is one of the more outrageous characters but still keeps him grounded and shows off some aching moments of buried regret. Gordon Carpenter and Zach Sanders may be the antagonists of the piece but never get to the point of caricature or stereotype. Sally Brady as the damaged regular of the donut shop, Lady, gives a fine and heartfelt performance with enough subtext for an entire other play. And eVen Daniel Wood as the hired muscle, Kiril, who only comes on at the end of the play and says all of about ten words, manages to take his character into a place of sweet honesty. And he even managed to give me a lump in my throat with two of his ten words.
Superior set from Craig Wollam, superior lighting from Tim Wratten, superior sound from Jay Weinland and I must add superior fight choreography from Geoffrey Alm, combined with the aforementioned superior acting and direction and the show is, you guessed it, superior. I'll admit to being pretty luke warm with SPT shows in the past but this is definitely the best production I've seen from them and one of the best productions I've seen all year. Do not miss it.
"Superior Donuts" performs at Seattle Public Theater through October 21st. For tickets or information contact the SPT box office at 206-524-1300 or visit them online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.
Photo credit: Paul Bestock