Gary Cole and Edi Gathegi Photo: Michael Lamont/Geffen Playhouse 2011
How do you follow up writing a Great American Play? Well, if you are Tracy Letts, you write Superior Donuts
, which is now receiving its Los Angles premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in a very well done production. Letts' Great American Play, of course, is August: Osage County
, and after having won every major award he could, a new direction was called for. Superior Donuts
is a far more modest, less ambitious work. It's a surprisingly genteel comedy about reconciling our American pasts. This is not a completely different project from August
. Letts is digging for something deeper in the American character and how we got where we are. But Superior Donuts
has far fewer sharp edges than its predecessors and it achieves its goals without a daunting ideological framework.Superior Donuts
is set in a contemporary Chicago neighborhood. Arthur, played by an excellent Gary Cole, is an ex-hippy and draft dodger who now runs the decaying and not very successful neighborhood donut shop he inherited from his father. The play opens after the shop has been vandalized and Arthur has lost his only employee. He soon hires Franco, played by Edi Gathegi, a young smart alec from the neighborhood. The two become an unlikely odd couple despite the difference in their races and agesl based in part on their mutual histories of uniquely American traumas. Franco's efforts to revitalize the business fail to win over Arthur who is mired in his lifetime of losses. Soon Franco's own demons arrive, forcing him to reevaluate his future prospects as well.
This is not new or unique material, and there are more than enough buddy picture tropes to go around, but Letts' sharp writing, particularly for the effervescent and witty Franco, is a powerful draw. And there are some humorous set pieces, including a geriatric brawl. And, while it's a nicer world than Letts has offered in the past, the themes of American cultural change are still prominent. The great chemistry between Cole and Gathegi make the play. There is an admirable restraint to the performances that relies on the characters' nonverbal interactions. The several members of the supporting cast were also quite good as the handful of remaining customers and friends Arthur sees in his store. And there are genuine laughs as well. Director Randall Arney has put together a wonderful version of this more accessible version of the Letts's America, and it's worth seeing at the Geffen where is runs through July 10.
Labels: Geffen Playhouse