But let’s not wax nostalgic. CST opens its season with Tracy Letts’ “Superior Donuts.” This play was highly anticipated when it premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2008, because it was the playwright’s first play since his monumental “August: Osage County.”
CST was founded on the principle of producing provocative theater, so “Donuts” is a good, if not particularly edgy, choice for its inaugural production at its work-in-progress space.
In “Donuts,” Arthur Przybyszewski (Shawn Hicks) is among the second generation of Polish immigrants running a family doughnut shop in Uptown Chicago. At 59, Arthur barely has the will to keep going. Sometimes he opens the shop so late, he misses the coffee man.
Just as Arthur sits to smoke his first joint of the day, in walks 21-year-old African-American Franco Wicks (Skip Hill), who has written the Great American Novel on legal pads and spiral notebooks, which he carries in his backpack. While awaiting the world to recognize literary genius, Franco needs a job, and he has great aspirations for the doughnut shop: poetry readings, music, bran muffins.The plot takes an unexpected twist or two.
Arthur and Franco reside at opposite ends of the ambition scale, but Arthur likes something about Franco, so he hires him.
This being a Letts play, the plot takes an unexpected twist or two before the bittersweet conclusion.
Directed by Rhonda Clark, the production is generally satisfying. For one thing, it would be unlikely for Letts to follow up “August,” indeed one of the Great American Plays, with a work of equal stature on the first try, but the initial step in staging a successful play is starting with a worthy script, which “Superior Donuts” is.
The work is harder to cast than you might think. Although both actors do fine jobs, Hicks is too young to play Arthur, and Hill is too old for Franco. However, this is not a fatal flaw.
Also, the production needs way more stage blood in a fight scene that’s adequate offstage, but could be spectacular onstage.
A highlight is Paul H. Tomlin as Luther Flynn, a bookie. Tomlin’s new to me, but he nails the Chicago accent, and Luther comes off as sort of a smalltime Whitey Bulger.