Coal Mine Theatre brings Tracy Letts’ bittersweet American tale to Toronto stage
Presented by Coal Mine Theatre
Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by Ted Dykstra
Coal Mine Theatre's current production of Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, a 2008 play (now a CBS television series) about the American Dream, is especially poignant in light of the tumultuous social and political climate in the United States.
Set in the historic Uptown neighbourhood of Chicago, the play centres around a cross-racial, cross-generational friendship between a donut proprieter, Arthur (Robert Persichini), and his young employee Franco (Nabil Rajo). Arthur is a divorced draft dodger of Polish decent, and Franco is a black college drop-out who may have written the next great Americal novel: America Will Be (the title is a line from a Langston Hughes poem).
We first meet Arthur after his store has been broken into and vandalized. Two police officers, Randy (Darla Biccum) and James (Michael Blake), are on the scene trying to figure out who could have committed the crime. Throughout their questioning Arthur appears indifferent and tired—as he does with almost everything in his life—that is, until Franco walks through his door asking for a job.
The energetic and industrious young man pushes Arthur out of his comfort zone, suggesting he ask the "lady cop" Randy on a date since she is clearly interested in him. Franco is also full of ideas on how Arthur could improve the business, but he quickly learns that his new boss isn't open to change or even willing to talk about his past. At the same time, it turns out Franco is hiding a dangerous secret of his own which bonds the pair together in ways they never could have imagined.
Featuring a resourceful set that makes full use of the intimate Coal Mine space, director Ted Dykstra's production is a gripping theatre experience from start to finish. Persichini's depressed-turned-optimistic Arthur is beautifully understated and Rajo steals many scenes as the charismatic Franco. The two characters counterbalance one another in an authentic performance that is both laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking. The only shame is that we don't get to see more of these two on stage together.
Letts' plot involves several side narratives, including confessional monologues in which Arthur reveals his true feelings about his family and life choices, as well as Arthur's encounters with an eccentric alcoholic named Lady (Diana Leblanc), his dealings with Max (Alex Poch-Goldin) the Russian business owner next door, and two thuggish bookies, Luther (Ryan Hollyman) and Kevin (Jon Lachlan Stewart), who come looking for trouble. The second half of the play includes a raucous and remarkably well choreographed fight scene in which Arthur finally makes an effort to stand up for himself and what he believes in. It's a memorable climax to say the least.
Superior Donuts makes its audience rethink stereotypes and labels, it makes us question what it means to be a friend and what it means to be a hero in everyday life. Don't miss this excellent production, on stage until February 26, 2017 at the Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Avenue).